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5.19.2017 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri May 19, 2017 8:31 pm
by RabbiMark
The Choice to Matter

For many preceding weeks of the Torah’s chapters now, we’ve been taking in directions, lists of dos and don’ts, warnings and how-tos for receiving life’s rewards - ensuring righteous living and thereby optimal living - as expressed by the Creator to Moses and the Israelite people dwelling in the desert. In the double Torah portion we read this Shabbat, B’har/B’chukotai, we continue to take in additional instruction.

On Mt. Sinai, God communicates intricate directions to Moses regarding the laws of the Sabbatical year (a Shabbos year for the land) which will soon become relevant upon the Israelites upcoming entrance into the Promised Land: every seventh year, all work on the land should cease, and its produce should become openly available for people and animals. Next, seven cycles of Sabbatical are to be followed by a fiftieth year - the Jubilee year - during which work on the land should also cease, all indentured servants be freed, and all ancestral estates that have been sold, be returned to their original owners. There are also laws given governing sales practices, rules on how to calculate the values of different types of pledges made to God, as well as the common message - a spiritual through-line - that has been offered consistently through the last number of chapters: God promises that if the people keep to the commandments communicated, they will enjoy prosperity and that if they do not, they may have to endure exile, persecution, and other negative outcomes. Inevitably, there is a redemptive assurance offered in the case the Israelites go the latter direction, which is: “Even when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away; nor will I ever… break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God.”

Sometimes it’s tough for me to digest the concept of a do-this-don’t-do-this-god who’s going to strike me down if I err and give me life’s goodies if I hit the mark. Scholars and authors and thinkers have been pondering such quandaries for eras - this idea of the ideal code by which to live in order to gain influence over what’s going to happen to and for us, or at the very least to keep to us on the “right” track as we traverse the landscape of our lives. What I can ingest, however, in a way that speaks to me deeply, is that the Torah’s messages are not to detract from my internal sense of a compass for right and wrong, good and bad, well and unwell, but can support it, can buttress it up by a wisdom that has remained relevant through time.

I do not live in Israel nor do I have a correspondence with/relationship to the laws of the Sabbatical or Jubilee years but I am acquainted with the very real need for selected time with self, God, and loved ones outside of activity-related routines and engagement. I may not live in an agricultural paradigm where defrauding my neighbor might involve moving boundary stones, but I do have “neighbors” in my life (colleagues, business associates) about whom I have choices to make as to how above-board I will be. I could just go with the idea that my internal compass can guide me in the areas that are relevant to my experience, but when I attempt to connect with the generosity of the Torah portion instead of intellectualizing how it doesn’t speak to me, THEN I am able to excavate the Divine reminders that are present in it for me. THEN I am hit by the distinct sense that I am supported by a Divine wisdom that quite literally can come off the page and sink into my heart if I look for how it can bring balance and meaning to my life.

Nothing reminds me more of this idea than when I reflect of what the Chassidic Masters say about the following line from B’Chukotai: “If you will not hearken to Me, and walk casually with Me, I too will act casually with you . . .” (26:28) This seems harsh upon first glance but what is taught about this line, is that sin - which I think of as our getting out of alignment with that internal compass that knows automatically how to make wise, life-affirmative, love-based choices - derives from considering ourselves and our deeds to be insignificant. The Chassidic Masters teach that when a person ceases to be sensitive to the importance which God attaches to his/her life and deeds, that a sense of “I don’t really matter” – which is not humility and rather, is it’s opposite – leads to an “I can do what I want” mentality. And that really, the most terrible of “punishments” is for God to indulge the sinner in this misgiving… for God to metaphorically say: “All right, have it your way; what happens to you is of no significance”— for God to regard him/her as if God does not care what happens to him/her.

To quote Albert Einstein, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” And even if I lose sight of this, that’s when I get to call to mind: “Even when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away; nor will I ever… break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God.” I remember that I’m not turned away or forgotten because I matter. Somehow, beyond what I can maybe even understand, I matter. And if I matter, then what I do, say, how I feel, how I love, live, and “be” in the world becomes an expression of my significance and value.

May we all gain insight into how we can live as though all of life is laced with miraculous nature and with an awareness that we are each precious to our Creator.

Shabbat Shalom!
Cantor Shira