Whether they know it or not, anyone who has been to a Jewish summer camp has some familiarity with the Book of Numbers (Sefer Bamidbar). Its tales of talking donkeys, rocks that flow with water, and scouts who see giants all provide more than suitable material for skits during Saturday morning services at virtuallyany Jewish summer camp in the US. One aspect of these stories is their unique perspective in relation to the historical journey of the Jewish people. In Sefer Bamidbar, we encounter narratives similar to those found in the Book of Exodus (Sefer Shemot). They are similar in their depictions of the challenges faced by the Israelites in the wilderness after their miraculous redemption from servitude.Along with these similarities, there is a significant difference in perspective. While in Sefer Shemot, our Torah maintains a retrospective lens, Sefer Bamidmar offers a proactive bias. Sefer Shemot constantly recalls the Exodus from Egypt and tells the story of a people looking back on its history. Sefer Bamidbar anticipates the entrance in to the Promised Land and offers a glimpse in to the process undergone by the people in preparation for this pivotal moment.
Now, we find ourselves in the Book of Deuteronomy (Sefer D’varim), a book that is more rhetorical than narrative in style, which synthesizes the importance of remembering the past found in Shemot with the emphasis on preparation for the future found in Bamidbar. Moses’s final message to his people is that the responsibility to do both, to look to the past and prepare for the future, rests not only in the hands of those in positions of leadership, but more importantly relies on the active participation of the entire community. Much of Sefer D’varim mandates the agency of the Israelite people in determining their future. As we see so often in this book, Moses presents the people with the choice between blessing and curse—life and death. Since Moses will not enter with them, the fate of the people rests in their own hands once they cross the Jordan.
At this point in time, similar to Moses, our community also looks toward the future from the mountain top. We now consider the option presented by our teacher Moses—of how we will continue to build sacred Jewish community and work towards a more just and caring world. Each member of the Temple Shalom community has a role to play in this greater cause, much the same way each tribe of Israel received different obligations to the nation as a whole. Working towards a sacred community happens in many ways. Whether it is joining together with our Christian neighbors in serving those most in need in Lafayette, or participating in meaningful conversation with our Muslim brothers and sisters during their sacred month of Ramadan. Of course, this is in addition to the culture of study and prayer we continue to maintain among our own community.
As we approach the upcoming year, my hope is that we will continue these efforts and find new opportunities to bring more compassion, understanding, and holiness into our world. Just as our teacher Moses presented a choice to the Israelites at Horev, so too are we presented with the opportunity of a new year in which we may, God willing, continue to grow and learn together. Of course, as with our ancestors, we also must proceed with an eye towards the past—recalling the triumphs and tragedies of times past. In just over a month’s time, we will join together in prayer and reverence for the Days of Awe. As our tradition mandates, we will call upon the merits of our ancestors in order to seek atonement for our past and a good seal for our future. While the significance of this season is certainly daunting, we may be consoled by the knowledge that what we take away from the experience completely depends upon our actions and intentions. As Moses explains, our fate solely rests in our own hands.
In light of this circumstance, the Google Form included in this month’s bulletin e-mail is intended to be the first step in encouraging the input and participation of everyone in the community in shaping the future of our journey together. In addition to the online survey, my hope is that everyone feels free to offer new ideas and efforts throughout the course of the year. This way, we can continue to build a kehillah k’doshah (holy community) that reflects the diversity and richness of its members.
May we carry with us the lessons learned from the past, and choose life and blessing as we look ahead to the beginning of a new year on the Jewish calendar. May we be diligent in preparing ourselves for this choice through reflection, repentance, and forgiveness. And may this next year bring new beginnings, new insights, and renewed holiness to our kehillah k’doshah.
כן יהי רצון
May it be the will of the Eternal