It is a joy to share some words of Torah with all you on this Shabbat- Shabbat HaGadol, it was named. The Great Sabbath. The Rabbis of old named this the Great Sabbath because it is the one that comes just before our holy festival of Passover. Tonight is indeed the Shabbat before the beginning of Passover, just a week away.
In this village, our spirits really do become parts of each other: I can see the joy in your eyes, reflecting the joy in my own eyes. This mingling of joy amidst joy is what I hope for all of us each Shabbat. Thank you for helping make today’s Shabbat one I’ll remember for a lifetime.
I am privileged to participate in Rabbis Without Borders, a project of CLAL: The National Center for Jewish Life and Learning. Rabbis Without Borders is a group of select rabbis dedicated to innovation and national service, and we had our annual conference last week.
It takes a village to raise a rabbi. While in a literal sense my ordination comes from ALEPH, the seminary of Jewish Renewal, in the truest sense my ordination comes through Temple Beth-El of City Island – through you.
As we approach the High Holy Days and the end and re-start of the annual Torah cycle, we encounter in this week’s Torah portion (Netzavim) pivotal words that we will revisit on Yom Kippur afternoon. Almost predictably, these words are about the teshuvah (spiritual return) that is the focus of these days of meaning.
As Rosh Hashanah nears, this week’s paresha (Ki Tavo) prepares our ancestors to enter the Promised Land, much as today we now undertake the preparation to re-enter our own inner Land of Promise at Rosh Hashanah.
The 74 mitzvot (commands) in this week’s portion are diverse: they include how to wage war, how to deal with wayward children, how to deal with corpses, when to return wayward animals, which clothing to wear, how to build a house roof, re-marrying one’s former spouse, loans and interest, what can’t be pawned for money, fair weights and measures, and more besides.
Shoftim includes one of Torah’s most famous lines (and, to a Jewish judge, the most pivotal): צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ (tzedek, tzedek tirdof) / “Justice, justice you must pursue, so you will live” (Deut. 16:20). While early tradition read this phrase as a call to honor court decisions (so we don’t take the law into our own hands), later generations read it philosophically, sensing in its repeat of the word צֶ֖דֶק (justice) two separate levels of justice – one human commended to our hands, another divine beyond human grasp.
This week’s Torah portion (Re’eh) recaps key aspects of Jewish law and life – monotheism, freedom, the holiday cycle and dietary laws. Perhaps its most important line, however, is a deceptively simple call for us to “walk in God’s ways” (Deut. 13:5), literally “After YHVH your God you will walk” (אַחֲרֵי ה׳ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם תֵּלֵכוּ). What does this mean?
As if in preparation for Elul, this week’s Torah portion (Re’eh) places in stark relief our choices about spirituality and the messy details of life. This reminder comes at exactly the right time.