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9.15.2017 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 9:23 pm
by RabbiMark
This past week, I had the honor of being a member of a beit din (panel of judges) to oversee a Jewish conversion hearing and ceremony. The young woman converting was born to a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father and had been exposed to the Jewish tradition for most of her life. Yet, for many of those years, she felt a calling to make her Jewish-ness “official” (at least in the eyes of certain denominational requirements). The procedures of the hearing are focused on the evaluation of a candidate’s sincerity, the testing of their knowledge, and the assessment of potential for success in becoming a Jew. The questions we asked related to her motivations, her intentions for religious and spiritual practice, and how she saw herself within the context of the greater Jewish community. Her deeply reflective responses were heartfelt and came from her soul. She spoke eloquently about past struggles to harmonize conflicting parts of herself, her regular engagement in t’shuvah to move past personal shame, and her dreams of becoming a Jewish mother.
Since she had lived for many years with an emerging Jewish identity, this conversion ritual also served as a "re-commitment ceremony," renewing her covenant to live Jewishly, in partnership with GD. In fact, as part of the ritual, she was asked, and enthusiastically agreed, to upholding a covenant with herself, GD, and the Jewish people by following GD’s instructions and laws.

With Rosh Hashanah less than a week away, I found that this conversion process and ritual provided a profound model for experiencing the High Holy Days. Much like this young woman, many of us have struggled to have a harmonized relationship with GD. We've engaged in a process of trying to figure out who we are and how GD “fits in,” within our lives. Along the way, many of us have learned how serious reflection, prayer, study, t’shuvah, and righteous actions are all pathways for developing a mutual and committed relationship with GD. These are all themes which are mentioned throughout the liturgy of the High Holy Days. If we look at the High Holy Days as a process, starting with the spiritual preparation, leading to our immersion in each special day, and ultimately allowing ourselves to be led to a different place by the end, it offers us the opportunity to dig deep into ourselves, into our relationship to the people and world around us, and into our relationship with GD. This work can lead us to make a renewed commitment to all of these areas of our life.

Fortunately, our Torah provides us with guidance and direction for navigating this process. In this week's double Torah portion, Nitzavim/Vayeilech, Moses and the Israelites are facing some of these same questions. We find Moses, shortly before his death, standing before the entire Israelite nation relaying GD's instructions, including the benefits of their adherence to the Law as well as the consequences for their disobedience. Lest they find themselves confused and disorientated, Moses emphatically states that GD’s teachings and instructions are quite accessible, dwelling within close proximity to their hearts and minds. The implication is that it’s on each of us to be willing to listen and access the Holy wisdom that comes from being partners with GD. The path to finding and fulfilling our unique purpose comes when we abide by the covenant to live as decent humans, honoring the Holiness within ourselves and others. Upon Moses’ looming death, and the Israelites’ imminent crossing of the Jordan, they are being asked to renew their commitment to live in partnership with GD by accepting GD’s instructions.

Our preparations for the High Holy Days – and the next step in the process of the renewal of our covenant to live in partnership with GD - continue THIS Saturday night (9/16) with a Slichot (Forgiveness) Service starting at 8:30pm at Beit T’Shuvah.

May we each be strengthened for continued growth and may it lead to strengthening our covenant with the Holy.

Chaplain Adam Siegel