Summary of My Talk on Eikev - Aug. 27 2016
A major challenge of religious life is to enable us to not only feel blessed in the synagogue but also to feel blessed out in the world. In synagogue, especially on shabbat, we recite the prayers, read from the Torah and celebrate our heritage with a large community around us. Today - shabbat Aug 27 - that spirit of joy was heightened as we celebrated an ufruf and a baby naming. Blessings were lavished on the young couple and the baby girl. Our hopes and dreams are expressed through these young people. And surrounded by love and good cheer we feel that anything is possible.
We even get a sense of that in the portion this morning. Our Torah reading tells us that if we follow the commandments the rain will fall at the right time and the harvest will be bountiful. But if we fail to follow in God's ways then the rain will fall at the wrong time or not at all and we will suffer. In the confines and safety of the synagogue as we celebrate shabbat together, this rings true.
But we know that it doesn't make sense in the world. We know that our lives will not always be filled with blessing. What tools does our tradition provide to face those moments of challenge?
Another hint at that is also from this morning's reading. (Thanks to Rabbi Ethan Linden's devar Torah) We are commanded to love the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deut 10:19). Together as a community when we focus on our values and traditions this makes sense and we wholeheartedly agree. But in the real world it's very difficult to express that love unconditionally to "the other". In Exodus we learn that we should not oppress the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9). There's an important difference. In the real world it is expected that we would at least not discriminate against or insult the stranger - that's the least we can do. Ideally we should love the stranger.
Another aspect of this idea of the safety of family and synagogue vs. the harsh reality of the world is expressed in the essay found in the religion page of the Washington Post this morning. Molly Harris, a junior at McGill University in Montreal writes to incoming Jewish college freshmen warning them of the antisemitism they may very likely face. She tells of her experience facing the very organized and vitriolic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) protests on campus. Thanks to other like minded students and Hillel she was able to fight such ignorant and vocal anti-Israel and antisemitic protests and slurs.
Molly Harris is a case in point of the challenge we constantly face. Our tradition teaches us values yet it's difficult to see that translated in the world around us. We can only pray that the blessing and educational foundation we receive in shul and school provides us the strength and motivation we need to make a positive difference in the world.