As parents of two young children, Ross’ and my lives are filled with a constant dialogue of “dos” and “don’ts.” “Don’t pull your sister’s hair.” “Don’t eat that,” the list goes on and on. Ideally, we would instead use phrases to try an emphasize the positive, such as, “how about making another choice?” or “Why don’t you try this food instead of that one?” etc. I find that if we constantly focus on the “negative” or the “don’ts,” often energetically, the universe hears “no” as “yes” and we get exactly what we did NOT want.
In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, Moses speaks to the Israelite people as they are about to enter the Land of Israel. There are certain things God expects them to do when they get there. Re’eh literally means, “See,” and Moses begins his instructions to the Israelites with this word by telling them, “See, this day I set before you a blessing and curse: blessing if you obey the commandments of God, and a curse if you do not obey them but instead, turn away from the path that God has set before us and then decide to follow other gods.” Moses then lays out the specifics of these commandments, which are to destroy all the altars, and any remnants of the other gods which were worshipped in the land. God goes on to tell them how to establish a sacred space of worship and specifies that sacrifices are to occur only in that designated space.
What can we learn from this Torah portion? Liberal Judaism, under which Reform Judaism falls, encourages us to take the teachings from both Oral and Written Torah and make them apply to us in the current day and time period, rather than working diligently to obey certain commandments (mitzvot). The holiday of Tisha B’av just passed. Those who observe this holiday acknowledge and fast for the destruction of the Temple which was on the ground of the sacred space that God commanded the Israelites to establish in this Torah portion. Many of us do not feel that it is necessary to mourn the loss the Temple and performing animal sacrifices. However, without that complete tearing down of that once sacred space, we would never have been able to rebuild and reconstruct temples and our sacred spaces of worship, social justice, and community as we know them today. Without the destruction of the Temple, we would likely not have Temple Jeremiah, or personal and liturgical prayer as we know it today.
As we prepare for our “Days of Awe,” our High Holy Days, in the coming weeks, and as we move into the month of Elul, I invite you to reflect on the language with which you make requests both of God, and maybe of other people. I invite you to adopt the “attitude of gratitude” when asking God for something. Perhaps we begin our petition with thanking God for the goodness we have been given. Then, when we make our big petition, whether it is for healing, peace, or whatever our heart’s desire, we change our language from “Please heal…..” to “May You, Holy God bring healing to…..” I am not in any way suggesting that this method will deliver the outcome which we desire. But it will help you to find a greater peace, a better sense of calm, and a more grateful way of walking through the world. Maybe we can do the same with our colleagues, spouses, and children. Maybe instead of saying, “please don’t……” we instead say, “have you ever thought of trying it this way,” which gives everyone, including God, the opportunity to achieve anything asked of them.
On Erev Rosh HaShanah this year, we will introduce a brand-new contemporary setting of the traditional “Hineni” prayer. It was written for Temple Jeremiah by my dear friend and colleague, Cantor Pavel Roytman, in honor of my installation as your cantor last December. It is a petition to God, acknowledging that I as your cantor, have made the promise to obey all of God’s commandments. But that it is often difficult to do so, with such turmoil in the world and in my own life. It is a prayer of gratefulness, acknowledging that God has given me the voice to shout God’s glory from the tops of the hills. Yet still expresses what most of us feel when the “rubber meets the road” in our lives. How do we balance keeping God’s commandments as we read this week in Re’eh, while still managing to deal with a world and life of pain and suffering? In the coming weeks, you will receive a recording and music video of this beautiful setting. I invite you to listen, reflect upon it, and continue to ask yourself, “what commandments am I being asked to keep and how can I continue to do so in gratitude?” It continues to be my honor to serve as your cantor.