Rabbi’s Weekly Message

Rabbi’s Weekly Message: August 10, 2022

Celebrating the Spiritual Journey

            This week, my message is one of celebration.  This shabbat, we at Temple Israel will witness the adult bar/bat mitzvah ceremony for five of our members. What a beacon of sunlight, in the cloudy landscape of 5782/2022!
            As always, the Torah reading that happens to coincide with the events of our lives provides a framing perspective and a source of inspiration. Near the beginning of the reading, Moses tells the generation of Israelites who have survived the Wilderness sojourn,
                        וְאַתֶּם֙ הַדְּבֵקִ֔ים בַּיהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם חַיִּ֥ים כֻּלְּכֶ֖ם הַיּֽוֹם׃
“You, who hold fast to the LORD your God—you are all alive today.” (Deuteronomy 4:4)
And later in the portion, Moses transmits the commandment to devote ourselves to educating ourselves and our children in the path of love and loyalty to God.
                        וְהָי֞וּ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם עַל־לְבָבֶֽךָ׃
          וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ֖ בָּ֑ם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשׇׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ׃
“Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
           These two quotations, taken together, tell us a two-part message. The first part is that bringing our lives into alignment with God is the secret to a meaningful life. That is the basic task of religion—to guide us along our paths of being in this world, by promoting meaningful living.     
           The second part introduces the theme of education. It is only the rare soul that rediscovers God, apart from the intermediary of culture.  For the large majority of us, role models, those whom we choose to emulate, are the channel by which we make sense of our world and find the ways to express our yearning for transcendence.
Our five adult bar and bat mitzvah students represent an inspiring cross-section of how one’s own choices and one’s cultural models intersect—how these verses impact our lives:
          One of our students came to Judaism, years and years after a spiritual experience in childhood that convinced him of the presence of our God.  Why it took the time that it took is simply a matter of the lives that each of us lead. The point is that his path, in the fullness of days, brought him to abide with our congregation, under the wings of the Divine Presence. This shabbat he affirms that truth of his life. And for that, we, his community, rejoice.
          One of our students was pondering his multi-faceted ethnic heritage and conducted a DNA search. He discovered his Jewish ancestry—his mother’s mother’s mother, it turns out, was from a distinguished Sepharadi family. His family of origin fled the Inquisition and made it halfway around the world. Others may have made similar discoveries and simply rested content in knowledge, but this student was motivated to investigate Judaism.  This shabbat, he completes his journey home to the Jewish people, and on Shabbat, he will recite the blessings that celebrate our heritage. And for that, we his community, rejoice.
           One of our students experienced a religious upbringing in which Judaism was one of several paths. She had a set of religious options from which to choose. But the pull of her Jewish roots spoke the loudest to her.  She now helps to pass along her Jewish identity to her own granddaughter, one of the children for whom our entire congregational village serves as a Jewish set of god-parents. This shabbat, she proclaims that the synagogue is her spiritual home. And for that, we, her community, rejoice.
           One of our students grew up in a Jewish home and celebrated his bar mitzvah. He recalls, fondly now, after the passage of years, that his original bar mitzvah tutor “threw the book at him.” Now, with the added wisdom of years, although still with a joyous, youthful spirit, he has revisited the bar mitzvah experience—and is getting so much more out of it this time around. And for that, we his community, rejoice. 
           One of our students enjoyed a solid, substantive bat mitzvah training as a teen, and, with the blessing of a fine singing voice, did quite well the first time.  But she has understood that Judaism is a lifelong journey, not a grade school experience. Studying her tradition, with the added sophistication of a lifetime of higher learning and teaching, has prepared her for a bat mitzvah that cannot be matched by even a successful 13-year old’s experience. And for that, we her community, rejoice.
            Our students will each chant a portion of the haftarah, the prophetic selection from Isaiah chapter 40. They will also sing the opening five verses of the haftarah together.  That passage begins,                         נַחֲמ֥וּ נַחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י יֹאמַ֖ר אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם׃
Comfort, oh comfort My people,
Says your God.
Indeed, it is a comfort to know that, amidst the distractions of life and the turmoil of this chapter in our history, there are people who focus on the life-affirming triad of core values: God, Torah, and the people Israel.
            Mazal Tov to our five celebrants, and mazal tov to our community, for being the religious home for such a worthy half-minyan.