In this week’s Torah portion, we read about Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro. When they met up in the wilderness after Moses and Miriam led the Israelites to freedom, Yitro was so moved by what God did to rescue the Israelites, he worked to make a sacrifice to God: Yitro helped Moses establish lower courts to relieve Moses of the burden of being the judge of all lower disputes.
One might say that the climax of this parsha is when God tells Moses that if they heed the commandments and are faithful, God will make them inheritors of God’s kingdom on Earth, where they will serve as high priests and rule the holy nation. When Moses relays this information to the Israelites, they agree, and, in 3 days time, God comes to them in a cloud of thick smoke to deliver a new set of governances for their society: The 10 Commandments.
It is noteworthy that instead of just calling Moses to Sinai to give him the 10 Commandments, God called the entire Israelite community. It can be difficult to see any kind of message through thick smoke and clouds, let alone a complete set of rules to govern a society. Today, we are living through unprecedented times. Every time we turn on the news, we are bombarded with political groups tearing each other apart, false narratives, and staggering numbers of human beings infected and dying with this crazy virus that has been plaguing us for over a year now. It cannot be denied that American society as we know it is experiencing a major collapse of our broken systems. We need to look no further than Wall Street for the latest near casualty.
The collapse of these systems is presenting messages within their deep, dark clouds of despair and frustration. We are receiving messages of how to live in our society in different, and somewhat better ways. We are receiving subtle messages that it is upon us to take care of the one and only Earth we live on. Perhaps God is giving us time to figure out how to stop killing each other with unnecessarily violent types of guns by limiting the amounts humans who are allowed to gather together. Perhaps we should be looking carefully within the clouds to see the message that it is not okay for only a small sliver of the population to have wealth, while the middle class continues to disappear, and more and more people cannot attain basic human rights of food, shelter, and clothing.
In the midst of the cloud of COVID-19, and all the Tzuris we are experiencing, there is a large body of creativity coming to life. Some of it is right in our very own community. We are so honored that Rabbi Cohen’s writings about Anavah (humility) within the book of Nitzavim are being published in the brand new Mussar Torah Commentary being published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Not only that, but it was also a National Jewish Book Awards Finalist. This beautiful commentary allows us to delve deeper into the different character traits (middot) of each weekly Torah portion, and will help us to find a more personal connection to the Torah stories than ever before.
We at Temple continually strive within the cloud of this pandemic to find deeper, stronger ways to connect. I have always prayed that our temple would be like B’nai Jeshurun in New York City on a Friday night—with people lined up out the door to worship. While we are not there yet, we are certainly seeing many more people connecting with Friday night worship than ever before. I would personally love to invite you to join us for our Shabbat Morning Minyan services. Maybe it is the anniversary of your Bar or Bat mitzvah and you’d like to chant your Torah Portion! Maybe you are saying Kaddish for a loved one. We would so very much love to have your presence at 8:30 on Saturdays for our short service, which leads into our thought–provoking Torah Study. Come to one or both!
In 2019, in response to my desire to help youth connect with Jewish music, I wrote an original song: “Hineni, Here I Am”. It was in the clouds of the pandemic that I recorded and released it. Please enjoy this setting. I hope it helps you find another way to ask God to hear your voice, to find your way through the clouds of life.