My February 17 Shabbat Message
An Invitation- As I wrote a number of weeks ago, Reform Judaism’s commitment to social justice gave rise to the Religious Action Center in Washington DC. Drawing on the moral teachings and commitments of Judaism, the RAC educates, advocates and lobbies on a variety of issues. This past weekend eleven of our TSTI teens spent a long weekend at the RAC along with Rabbi Klein and Erica Shulman. While there they studied, debated, shared and, on the last day, went to Capital Hill to lobby our members of Congress. At this evening’s service (which is at 6pm because it is a holiday weekend) three of the participants- Amy Nadel, Ian Lowenthal and Sarah Wish- will be speaking about their experience and sharing some of what they learned. Please join us to welcome Shabbat and to support these amazing teens leaders.
Some Torah- This week’s Torah portion, Jethro, takes place a few months after the People of Israel escaped Egyptian slavery. It opens with Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law teaching the Israelite leader (Jethro was a Midianite) how to best structure the community so as not to wear himself out and, at the same time, encourage the community to take personal responsibility for themselves.
Later in the portion we arrive at the moment when God finally invites the individuals when fled Egypt to become a covenanted community. With this covenant, this Brit- the people of Israel enter into a unique relationship with one another and with God.
“If you obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant,” God says to them, “you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples.”
What is striking about this moment is that the people of Israel, many of whose descendants would become lawyers, reply without so much as a single question regarding the content of the binding contract they were about to entering. Instead they respond in unison, son, “All that God has spoken, we will do… and eventually we will fully comprehend… [what is required of us]”
And with that God utters the words of the Ten Commandments:
1. I am the Lord your God.
2. Worship no idolatrous images.
3. Do not swear falsely by the name of God.
4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not hear false witness.
10. You shall not covet.
Too often we wait for inspiration before taking action. Yet from the very beginning of our covenanted community we have been taught that the action often precedes the understanding. For example- we can wait for inspiration before beginning to light Shabbat candles at home. Such inspiration may or may not eventually arrive. Or, we might commit ourselves to lighting candles weekly for the next three months. If we do, odds are that at some point during those twelve weeks it will becoming a meaningful way to end the week.
The same applies to the task of Tikkun Olam- repairing our broken world. We can look at the state of our nation and the world and be saddened. We can share our upset on social media and over the dinner table. We can wait to be inspired to act. Or we can jump in and do something about it. The impact any one of us can have may be limited but if we all take action tremendous things can be accomplished.
From the very beginning of our people we have learned that action often precedes understanding. When it does, this week’s Torah portion teaches, the results may surprise us.