Lean On Me: Moshe and Joshua, Striking the Rock, and Change

Here’s the d’var Torah which Rabbi Rachel offered yesterday at CBI for parashat Chukat. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

1In the verses we just read, Miriam has just died and the people have no water. God tells Moshe to speak to a rock so that it will yield water for the children of Israel. Moshe, instead, responds with snark: “Listen, you rebels — shall I get water for you out of this rock?” He hits the rock. The rock gives water, but God is not pleased. God says: Because you failed to make Me holy in the eyes of the Israelites, you will not enter the promised land.

Those of you who were here last Shabbat afternoon heard our bat mitzvah’s perspectives on this story. She opened up some classical teachings about the text, but ultimately concluded that from her point of view, this is profoundly unfair.

I can understand that. Moshe may have thought this was pretty unfair, too. First of all, when God spoke to him from the bush which burned but was not consumed and told him to go to Pharaoh, he said “who am I to do such a thing? I stammer. Send someone else.” He didn’t want the leadership position in the first place, but God deployed him anyway.

Then he gave his entire life to leading the people of Israel through the wilderness. The people kvetched and they quarreled and they pushed him to his breaking point. He lost his temper this one time, and for that, he’s denied entry into the place they’ve been yearning to reach?

I have a lot of empathy for this vision of Moshe. How frustrated he must have been. How tired of feeling under-appreciated and undervalued, of deferring whatever his own dreams might have been in order to lead this difficult people. But what happens if we read today’s verses not as a punishment but as a natural shift in generations?

Moshe snaps at the people and hits the rock and God thinks: ahh — I see that you’re approaching the end of your rope. So God gives notice to Moshe: you’ve done amazing things, and I can see that you’re getting weary, and it’s okay — you’ve led the people so very far — you don’t have to lead them all the way. You can place your hands on Joshua and give him some of your spirit. Lean on him (that’s what smicha means), transmit your Torah to him, and then let go. Trust the next chapters of your people’s story to his hands and his heart.

Before the end of his story, Moshe will have the opportunity to stand before the people and remind them of everything they’ve experienced thus far. That’s the book of D’varim / Deuteronomy — the Hebrew name means “Words,” and the Greek name means “Second telling.” Moshe gets to give over his wisdom one final time before he dies, and when he dies, Torah tells us, God buries him.

When I imagine myself in Moshe’s shoes at the end of his life, I imagine gratitude at the opportunity to pause before the end and retell my own story. Moshe stands before the Israelites and speaks the poem of his life, the poem of their lives, giving meaning to everything they have experienced. He has the opportunity to meet death gently, at an advanced age, after having told his story and done the inner work of letting go. We should all be so lucky.

And when I imagine myself in the shoes of Joshua, Moshe’s successor, I imagine gratitude at the opportunity to spend a lifetime learning from the greatest prophet the Jewish people would ever know. I imagine Joshua feeling humbled by the awesome task of trying to take over for Moshe — Moshe, who spoke face-to-face with God, who brought Torah down from Sinai, who presided over the Exodus from an old world to a new one. Never again will there arise a prophet like Moshe. Talk about a hard act to follow.

I hope that Joshua said thank you often enough. I hope he communicated to Moshe how honored he was to be ordained in his lineage, and how much love he felt for the people they were both called to serve, and how deeply he knew that he wouldn’t be leading the people forward from there if Moshe hadn’t gotten them as far as he did.

And I hope that before he died Moshe was able to reflect back on the scene we just read, and maybe to chuckle with a little bit of chagrin, and to feel gratitude that he had such a student to whom he could pass on his gifts. A student who became a colleague, in the end; a successor; maybe even a friend.

 

A Shabbat of solidarity and celebration

Screen-shot-2012-08-13-at-5.43.04-PM-325x167Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Today the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. The right to marry is now granted to all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, in every state of the Union.

When Massachusetts first took the bold step of making gay marriage legal in 2004, I called a florist in Cambridge and ordered bouquets of flowers to be delivered to same-sex couples who were standing in line outside of city hall. I could not have imagined then that we would see this equality spread from our small state throughout the contours of our nation by 2015.

At tomorrow morning’s Shabbat service we will sing a shehecheyanu, the blessing which sanctifies time, and recite a special marriage equality blessing (from Siddur Sha’ar Zahav) in celebration of this historic moment.

Across the Jewish denominations this Shabbat had already been declared to be a Shabbat Of Solidarity With African Americans. Tomorrow morning we will also encounter a powerful poem by Rabbi James Stone Goodman written in the wake of the tragic shooting at “Mother” Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.

We are also mindful of the three terrorist attacks which took place today across the globe — in France, Tunisia, and Kuwait. We grieve with those who lost loved ones in those places, and in Charleston, and everywhere else marred by violence… even as we celebrate today’s historic marriage equality victory.

At every Jewish wedding, we break a glass. Explanations for this custom abound, but the one which resonates most with me is that even in our moments of greatest celebration, we remember that there is brokenness in our world. May this Shabbat soothe the brokenness and lift up the celebration in our hearts.

Shabbat shalom —

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Chukat.

Shavua tov – a  good week to you!

This week we’re reading the Torah portion known as Chukat in the book of Bamidbar (“In the Wilderness,” a.k.a. Numbers.) return-to-shabbat

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Chukat | URJ.

This coming Shabbat morning, services will be led by Rabbi Rachel. Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact Pattie Lipman.

We hope to see you soon at CBI!

Shabbat in the wake of tragedy

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shabbat is coming: that time of sweetness, that “taste of the world to come,” when tradition teaches each of us is enlivened by an extra Shabbat soul.

During the week now ending, the sanctity and safety of a historic African American church in Charleston, SC was shattered by an act of hatred. A white gunman took advantage of their hospitality and welcome, spent an hour purporting to join them in prayer, and then killed nine members of that church, leaving the tenth alive to tell the tale.

Our world desperately needs Shabbat peace this week.

Our hearts are with the community of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston. We grieve their losses. May the One Who makes peace in the highest heavens bring balm and comfort to their hearts.

The name of their church, Emmanuel, means in Hebrew “God With Us.” May God be with them in their grief. And may God be with us as we drink deeply of the well of Shabbat replenishment and renewal, and then enter the new week rededicated to the task of building a world redeemed.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Join us tomorrow morning at 9:30am for Shabbat morning worship led by Rabbi Pam Wax (we are trying hard to make a minyan for the Bashevkins; please join us if you can) and tomorrow afternoon at 5pm for mincha / maariv / havdalah services and our celebration of Rose Gotlieb becoming bat mitzvah.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Korach.

Shavua tov – a  good week to you!

This week we’re reading the Torah portion known as Korach in the book of Bamidbar (“In the Wilderness,” a.k.a. Numbers.) return-to-shabbat

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Korach | URJ.

On Shabbat morning we’ll read from Korach. When we gather again on Shabbat afternoon to celebrate the bat mitzvah of Rose Gotlieb, we’ll move on to the following week’s Torah portion, so you’ll get an early preview of Chukat! (At mincha-time on Shabbat we stop reading the previous week’s portion and begin reading the next week’s portion.)

This coming Shabbat morning, services will be led by Rabbi Pam Wax; on Shabbat afternoon when we meet at 5pm, services will be led by Rabbi Rachel. Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact Pattie Lipman.

We hope to see you soon at CBI!

You are always welcome

Shavua tov / a good week to you!

This is a special week; this coming weekend we’ll be celebrating as one of the young ladies of our congregation becomes bat mitzvah.

Some of you have mentioned to me recently that you’re never sure whether you’re welcome at our b’nei mitzvah celebrations, especially when we have a Shabbat afternoon/evening bat mitzvah celebration, since that is a time when we do not usually gather at CBI. I am writing today to assure you that you are always welcome and your presence is always desired.

Our services are always open to the community, and we welcome all of our community members to come and daven (pray) with us every Shabbat — especially on these special days when we celebrate our young people coming of age. That’s true whether we’re meeting at our usual Shabbat morning hour of 9:30am, or at 5pm for mincha, maariv and havdalah.

Celebrations of b’nei mitzvah usually take place at a time when Torah is read. In Jewish tradition, Torah is read on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings — and also on Shabbat afternoons, during the afternoon service known as mincha, which means “offering.”  (It’s named after the afternoon offering we used to make at the Temple in Jerusalem.)

Some of our families choose to mark b’nei mitzvah by having their children called to the Torah on Shabbat morning. Others choose to mark this moment by having their children called to the Torah on Shabbat afternoon. As it happens, of our two bat mitzvah celebrations this summer, one family chose morning and one family chose afternoon — so our community will get to experience both.

Most of us are familiar with Shabbat morning prayer, but may be less familiar with the experience of sanctifying Shabbat afternoon as it slides toward evening. Shabbat afternoon is a special time with a special ta’am or spiritual flavor. Coming together as Shabbat afternoon begins to give way to evening feels different from coming together on Shabbat morning. These final hours of Shabbat are extra-sweet because we know that Shabbat will soon be ending. One tradition holds that God is nearest to us as Shabbat mincha-time gives way to evening.

I hope that you will join us for both of our celebrations of bat mitzvah this summer — this weekend at 5pm; and Saturday July 11 at 9:30am — to experience these two different moments of Shabbat time and these two different flavors of community prayer, and to celebrate Rose and Molly as they take their place as engaged, participatory Jews in our community.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Shlach-Lecha.

Shavua tov – a  good week to you!
This week we’re reading the Torah portion known as Shlach-lecha in the book of Bamidbar (“In the Wilderness,” a.k.a. Numbers.) return-to-shabbat
If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Shlach-Lecha | URJ.

This coming Shabbat morning, services will be led by Rabbi Dennis Ross. Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact Pattie Lipman.
We hope to see you soon at CBI!