Boy this year is flying by-i can’t believe it is march! But more than that, I can’t believe we have already completed two books of our Torah-it feels like just yesterday that we were celebrating Simchat Torah-the moment where we finished the torah reading cycle, and then immediately commenced the reading again. I am sure that Tammy is thinking, how can we be here already! Wasn’t Ryan just in Kaplan Nursery School?
Let’s think about what we have “experienced” so far in our reading of our torah-the creation of the world, the initiative of Abraham and Sarah to begin to raise a family and a faith, the descent to Egypt, the exodus from our slavery, the amazing moments of revelation at Sinai, and over the past few weeks, the building on of the Mishkan. As we did
As I think about all of this I am struck by a paradox that is created. On one hand, we might feel distant from the stories of our people, the Sinai moments, the exoduses of the past, the entrance into the promised land since we are so many generations from the actual events. But then We realize that here we are, re-creating the moment of sinai by standing at this ark…recreating the importance of family-by celebrating ryan with his family and community at his bar mitzvah.
And all of us are here, with our own stories, many standing on the shoulders of those who have come before us-who have experienced their own exodus, who have reached their promised lands, who have created communities-and we are taking their experience, and like each subsequent generation in the torah, we are adding our voices, our experiences.
At the end of the Torah reading this morning we all chanted, chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek for our parasha which means, strong, strong, and we will be strengthened.
I asked, in my thought question, Why is the word “chazak” repeated? I believe that one answer is that when we say chazak twice we are doing it for the past and for the present. But more than that it is about us and someone else. None of us are strong, alone.
And that is the importance of the third word, v’nitchazek-may we all be strengthened.
It is clear to me that our community-whether NYC, our Jewish community, the Jewish people, the world, will only be strengthened when we work together. When we recognize that a rising tide lifts all ships.
So the question is, how do we do that?
I think, in the context of the book of Exodus, there are two ways…first of all, knowing where we came from and therefore knowing where we are heading…and, knowing that we have a community to do it with.
So i would like to share a number of texts, as highlights, from the book of Exodus, that allow us to understand, how we are strong-and will continue to be strong.
There is one really obvious transition of how we became strong–
We literally when from slavery to freedom-we were no longer under the control of Pharaoh, but rather, had our own language, and even more important, our own calendar.
The next way we we progressed to an even stronger, more connected community, was by understanding that the we went from having doubts in God to faith in god. This was expressed in the contrast between the building of the golden calf several weeks ago to the completion of the building of the mishkan this week.
A third example is the role of women. Women in the book of exodus were always strong, but the choices they made became so much more positive. At the beginning they had to literally put their sons in baskets down the nile and by the end the were dancing on the other side of the sea, they were’nt giving in their jewelry during the golden calf, and they were finally being counted amongst the peoples.
Lastly, we see a progression of strength as we installed our own leaders. No longer subject to Pharoah’s rule, we were able to create a leadership structure that worked for us…investing Aaron as a priest was a step to the creation of a ritual/religous practice that would enable us to worship God in an organized way.
None of these are comprehensive examples but there are kernels in each of them which remind us what a strong community needs:
It needs to have self determination.
It needs to have faith.
It needs to have people who have good options in front of them
It needs to have leadership of its own choosing.
We are all parts of many communities. Here is my hope for us, this shabbat, and in this month of Adar, where we will celebrate Purim, a holiday that is about a Jewish community…one that needed to remain strong amidst adversity. A holiday where a woman found her voice despite her fear. A holiday where the Jewish people survived despite threat of annihilation….
My hope is that we know who we are. That we understand our Jewish history. That we know that there will be times where we will be put down-on all sides. That there will be people who could be against us…but like the israelites in the bible, and the jews of person-when we know our past, when we appreciate our present…we will be better, stronger, and more united in the future.