Continuing with my Hebrew-month-of-Elul theme of focusing on the life stage in which we find ourselves, this sermon will reference, in part, a commentary on this week’s reading Re’eh, by my colleague Rabbi Chaplain Cheryl Weiner
Rabbi Weiner opens her drash as follows: “Our parshah, Re’eh, is often translated as “Behold” or “See” — I place before you today a blessing and a curse…. As the Torah portion at my birth, seventy years ago, I feel that this has been the guiding message of my life. As I have aged, I have learned to take that which has felt like a curse and [learned] to re-frame it into a blessing. When I have wandered off the pathway [of] goodness or good sense, life, has [re]turned me toward meaning and transformed the curse into blessing.
In the Jewish tradition, when you turn seventy, you are considered to have fulfilled your life’s mission, led a complete life, and you get to start over again. [That’s why people have a second Bar/Bat Mitzvah at 83 years of age (70+13= 83)]. As part of my spiritual journey, I have reflected on what my 69 years have looked like and based on how I feel about those years, will created a new set of priorities for the next stage of life.”
(Me from now on): Here’s a hint, based on my “stages of Life theme…” We don’t have to wait until we turn 70. Or if we have already turned 70, it’s not too late to follow her example of making a new plan for the next stage of life.
Some of the messages of Re’eh become the messages of what to do next. We are instructed to build a Temple in which G!d can dwell. Rabbi Weiner is looking for a way to transform her good-sized shul into something more inclusive and proactive for the seniors she serves. What might we do to enhance our shul? One answer would be to increase our numbers. More Jews in the Pews, right? That would be a good start. Who reading this is willing to make a commitment to show up one extra time a month to shul? Who here is willing to donate the equivalent of a cup of coffee or frozen yogurt or a trip through the local fast food joint to our coffers? Any or all of those things will help us KEEP our Temple in which G!d is currently dwelling functioning.
Re’eh continues to remind us that we are instructed to participate in three pilgrimage holidays (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot). To visit with G!d on each of those festivals, to renew our souls in those conversations as well as renew our feelings of joy and thanksgiving each time a festival is observed.
“So,” you say. “I don’t go to Temple on the Festivals, I barely go Shabbat. I don’t have time; I don’t have interest; I don’t need a building. I can talk to G!d on my own, at home, in the shower, taking a walk, mowing the lawn, playing golf, watching my kids do sports…” There may be some truth in what you say. It may be really easy for you to maintain your relationship with G!d. It may be easy for you “upgrade” your soul’s “motherboard.” Or maybe your just don’t care about any of the things we are considering here.
But what about those Jews here in our community who do care about their relationship with G!d and their soul but simply can’t do the work on their own? What about those who need a structured time, place and liturgy to get them in the right zone to contemplate on heavy difficult matter including their relationship with G!d and our people, The People of Israel. What do we owe those Jews who need a physical community within a brick and mortar edifice to do their soul-work? This parshah helps us find the answer. In Ch 15:7ff, we read: “If…there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the Lord your G!d has given you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.” This passage is generally understood as a reminder that we must financially assist the widow and orphan and any individual in fiscal straits. But how about if we re-imagine the reading to be about those who need help in connecting to their Jewish identity? Those needing help sitting still long enough to talk to G!d, say Kaddish for a loved one – always a problem in our congregation – since we have so much trouble gathering a Shabbat minyan – or simply being given a chance to be with other Jews as part of a physical, not virtual community? I would say that we owe them a lot. I would say that we have an obligation as fellow Jews to make time in our lives for them. I want everyone to think about these words carefully. If not for yourself, than for the other “needy” souls in our midst. If not for yourself, for the future of our community; for the future of the Jewish people we have not yet met. For the children who will be arriving in our valley, for youngsters already here who need Jewish ritual role modeling by Jewish adults. But if that doesn’t motivate you, than yes, DO it for yourself. Some day there will be a time when you will need this community as an intact, cohesive body of people physically present – to offer comfort and consolation; support and understanding when you suffer the loss of a loved one, the loss of your mobility, your independence, your livelihood, your home or your way of life. Who will be there as you enter one of those trying stages of life? You might say, “My on-line friends! My extended family of course!” But that doesn’t always work out so well. On-line friends don’t show up at your door or offer you a lift to the doctor or the DMV to renew your license or take you grocery shopping or offer you respite after a trying day of care giving.
Well, what about that family you mentioned? Some of us don’t have families to rely on. Sometimes our families are the problem. Sometimes they are willing to help but are too enmeshed in their own lives, kids, jobs, tzuris or they just live to far away. So, let me say it again, we Jew need to make a concerted effort to stay or become affiliated with TBS. Invest your coffee, frozen yogurt or drive thru allowance and donate it to our coffers. Commit to showing up an extra time or two each month. If you’re not a member, join! We have membership applications available. We are such blessed people living here in this beautiful valley. It’s never been easier to be Jewish as it is right now. And that includes what happened in Poway and Pittsburg. Think about our European ancestors. Most of the time it was hard being a European Jew. But they put up with the pointy hats, badges, customs and costumes meant to thwart their observance and cause great humiliation. But perhaps because of that, because it was difficult, they made it a point to affiliate and show up at their synagogues consistently. Nu? What’s with the modern Temecula Jews? Is it because it’s so easy and relatively safe for us that we take for granted our religious freedom and go to the baseball game/football game, shopping mall or grocery store instead of showing up for services? Maybe it’s more fun and so relaxing to put on my pj’s and watch TV on Friday night – it might be, but so what? This isn’t necessarily about fun. It’s easy to say, “Ah, no problem, the other Jews will show up for services and make the minyan. They don’t need me.” It could not be more untrue. Perhaps if we were a shul with a hundred active families, but you know we are not that shul…every body counts!
The Hebrew month of Elul, the month before Tishre, and the entire cycle of High Holy Daysoliday is now upon us. It is here, just as the next stage of our life is here. How do we wish to manifest this new stage and all the bountiful blessings that will come with it? How will we live our life of blessing inclusively in an effort to convert times of cursedness into times of Joy? I’ve given you some hints. There’s a lot to think about in this sermon. I welcome your thoughts and comments.
Rabbi Sandy Rosenstein