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Sermon: Parshat Tetzaveh, 3/6/20

03/16/2020 05:10:06 PM


Rabbi Charlie

350 teens… a good 75 chaperones… All living in a hotel for a long weekend. It sounds amazing, doesn’t it? We visited the Holocaust Museum, we hung out in Georgetown, we went to the National Mall. And every step of the way, we did Jewish and on Monday morning, after a lot of learning and activities and workshops and skits and more, we accomplished our goal.

Going to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress is inspiring. In the midst of the impressive beauty of our Nation’s Capital, it’s a reminder of what our Democracy is supposed to be. Most of the time there’s a lot of confusion and cynicism about what’s happening in D.C. We assume the worst, we don’t feel we’re understood, and we don’t feel like we have a voice. That can be common in many areas of life, unfortunately. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

This week’s Torah Portion points us in the right direction. It begins with the idea of the Ner Tamid – the eternal light. In the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 36:3), our rabbis connect the idea of the light that is always burning with the act of doing mitzvot and living our Torah. Our light is our goodness – something we can share with the world.

Last weekend, hundreds of teens from all over the country brought their light to D.C. They learned not only to share their Jewish values. They also learned to share their stories. Each of us has a perspective – a story to share. That story could be about what happened to us or a friend; it could be about how hopes or fears. Our stories inform who we are and why we care deeply and passionately about many issues. I had a chance to witness our own Samantha Zelling, along with a small group from McAllen, Texas, speak powerfully about the topics of their choosing – gun violence prevention and reproductive rights.

I have such admiration for these young people and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism for making sure they were prepared to do what they did. For they walked into the most intimidating of circumstances and they shared their light with the staff of Senators and Representatives.

I also want to offer appreciation for these staff members for their part in this process. They did what this week’s Torah portion tells all leaders to do. You see, it’s all in the clothing… Israeli Scholar, Dr. Pinchas Peli, teaches that the breastplate that the priest must wear has the names of all the tribes on it to remind us that the people we serve should be in our heart to remind us to bring love and compassion to our thoughts and interactions.

The names of the tribes were also supposed to be on the shoulder straps of the ephod – which was like an intricate gown. Dr. Peli argues that this was to remind our leaders that they are not to be carried on the shoulders of their followers. Rather, leaders should never forget the people they serve. We need to care for their needs and with great diligence, speak on their behalf.

The staff of Senator Cornyn, Senator Cruz, and Representative Marchant did not see a group of teenagers and dismiss them. They saw young people who were professional, thoughtful, and clearly cared deeply as they shared their values and their stories. These staff members treated our high school students with respect. They listened with intention and took notes as they spoke. With our Senators, there was a little debating – an honest back and forth that was both passionate and polite. Politicians have a horrible reputation. These individuals were the opposite.

It enabled our teens to not only lobby Congress – it also allowed them to see Congress and our Democracy in a new light. Those encounters weren’t about yelling and attacking and hyperbole. It was about sharing our light and being heard. It was about understanding that constituents matter, their stories matter, and that we don’t have to agree to give honor and appreciation. Who would have believed it… Politicians and teenagers – two groups that don’t always have a reputation for maturity - we met to Washington, D.C. and we found civility. And for that, I’m grateful! Shabbat Shalom!

Fri, October 23 2020 5 Cheshvan 5781