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July 18, 2023

07/18/2023 12:00:00 PM


During the hottest summer ever recorded, our attention is called to the crises human action and inaction causeS. Our action — using resources — some stewardship, a responsibility that begins in Genesis 2:20, when the first human names all the creatures. This is an important piece of understanding the created world, a world we hope to leave better than we found it.

Inaction can be both more pervasive and more pernicious. Our absence from the laboratory that is the synagogue, as Mishnah counsels, is only one of the mitzvot that define Jewish life. The community meets — in person (though more recently, virtually as well) — and in those moments becomes a living entity. The shared experience was expanded through this familiar Mishnah:

“These are precepts for which no fixed measure is prescribed: [leaving] the corner [of a field unharvested], [the offering of] the first fruits, the appearance-offering, [performing] deeds of kindness, and the study of Torah. These are precepts, the fruits of which one enjoys in this world, [while] the principal [reward] is preserved for the World-to-Come. They are: Honoring father and mother, [performing] deeds of kindness, early attendance in the House of Study morning and evening, providing hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, participating in making a wedding, accompanying the dead [to the grave], concentrating on the meaning of prayers, making peace between others and between spouses — and the study of Torah is equal to them all.” (Mishnah Pe’ah 1:1)

As we approach the new month of Av, which will arrive Tuesday at sundown, the month in which in 70 c.e. the siege of Jerusalem caused the sacrifices in The Temple — Bet Hamikdash — to cease, and saw the destruction of that sacred space on the 9th of Av, tradition is to refrain from celebrations and even actual rituals of mourning, abstinence from eating meat (as in the sacrifices), shaving and other kinds of personal grooming.

In the context of CBI’s own still-recent traumatic experience, it is clear that this Mishnah, which opens the study of the harvest, and all that agriculture means to human existence, serves us as a lesson in the importance of showing up, being counted, doing for others and hence doing for ourselves maintaining the community actively is its goal, as well as the welfare of the vulnerable of all ages.

Our modern lives, charted in full schedules and multiple responsibilities demand much of our time and energy. All that doing in our busy everyday life provides many blessings and benefits. It might not provide, however, a sense of quiet or calm, or underscore our individual gifts ready to be shared with a wider world. Earlier, I wrote of the synagogue as a laboratory, which it is, offering a testing ground for values, tenets, and precepts. When we meet the community convenes in God’s presence and with our peers. 

I grew up in Reform synagogues, using the 1941 Union Prayer Book. Sabbath services opened with the candle blessing ritual. We heard weekly:

Come let us welcome the Sabbath as we kindle these tapers… (Union Prayer Book I, p. 7)

Light is our symbol. Begin with one Mitzvah. Be a lamplighter and enter the world of spiritual awareness with us Erev va-Boker, evening and morning, to add perspective, wisdom, and hope to your days.

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784