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Sept. 5, 2023-19 Elul 5783

09/05/2023 01:27:34 PM


In the final week of Elul, tradition helps us shift into the mode of repentance through the addition of Selichot to regular worship. To mark the start of this prayerful week, the coming Shabbat in Tarrant
County, three synagogues will join forces—assisted by the Fort Worth Federation—in knocking at the spiritual gates of repentance that are open widest these weeks approaching Yom Kippur.

Why do I attach such importance to this? First and foremost, it is my personal acknowledgment of ways that I have lived imperfectly through the past year. My failures—through inaction and misdeed, word or misstep, calculation or failure to recognize consequences of what I think appropriate—are too many to enumerate. Then again, they are measures of my humanity.

In a second tier, we live in a society marked by injustice, carelessness, and self-seeking quests for power. If such things occur while we are part of the society, and we stand by in silence, a share of the
responsibility transfers to each of us as individuals.

In the oft-cited words of Martin Niemöller, as enshrined in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."

Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor from German upper-middle-class background, faced a certain destiny for his political activity against Nazism. Yet his impact was far more important for the moral insight that derives from the core of Jewish tradition as reinterpreted into Western culture. We share responsibility for the quality of life, even the safety, of all in our society. And, at this time of year, we bear the burden of responsibility for the misdeeds committed in the name of nation, people, and society as a collective.

As we approach the Day of Atonement—the apogee of our quest for adding to our life—the narrative text of Leviticus carries us from the establishment of the Tabernacle, through the investiture of Aaron
and his sons as kohanim. These few were responsible for divine service at the altar. Yet two of the sons, Nadab and Abihu, violated their boundaries by bringing unconsecrated, ‘strange’ fire, which cost them all. Finally, the narrative re-surfaces in chapter 16, acharei mot schnei banav—after the death of Aaron’s two sons—with the ritual of atonement that was commanded to be permanent.

We read this text:
For on this day atonement shall be made for you to purify you of all your sins; you shall be pure before Adonai. It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial; it is a law for all time. (Leviticus 16:30-31)

Whether or not we fast in the traditional sense—which is good unless medically prohibited—stopping as many ordinary activities as possible for 25 hours, to focus solely on the state of our spirit is a unique
privilege. And the weeks leading up to that day of purity, the days of selichot and teshuvah, the New Year and Days of Awe, speak to our quest in each year—in a life that too often disappoints—to find
satisfaction, wholeness, and hope.

This Friday evening in our CBI sanctuary, Shabbat morning in the sanctuary of Congregation Beth Shalom in Arlington, and later as Shabbat concludes at Beth El in Fort Worth, our presence bears witness to our shared commitment to Jews and to our world, that our responsibility is like that of Aaron in his day.

Join them, in acting as a ‘nation of priests and a holy people’—creators of light and meaning, even in troubled, troubling times.

L’shanah Tovah tikateivu v’tikateimu—May you be inscribed and sealed for a year of blessing and life.

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784