Saturday, September 12, 2020
Twenty-Third Day of Elul 5780
Today is Shabbat, the most holy day in Jewish tradition. It is our day of rest and our day of joyfully feeling God’s presence all around us.
After this Shabbat ends tonight, we will be entering the night of Selichot. Temple Sinai will have a Selichot service on Zoom at 8:00 PM. The reflection for Day 25 will introduce the Selichot service. You should review it tonight before the service.
This particular Shabbat is called Shabbat Nitzavim-Vayeilech for the double Torah portion we read today. In the first part of the Torah reading, we read Moses’ powerful statement of inclusion in the covenant with God. He states, “You stand this day, all of you, before Adonai your God – your tribal heads, your elders, and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer – to enter into the covenant of Adonai your God…” (Deuteronomy 29:9-11).
Moses’ speech to the Israelites as they stood ready to enter the Land of Israel said that no one was left outside of the covenant with God. Regardless of social status or prestige, all were in the covenant together. All were equally needed.
This idea would later be expressed by the rabbis of the Talmud in the phrase: Kol Yisrael aravim zeh bazeh, “All Jews bear responsibility for one another” (B. Shevuot 39a). In the 20th century, the great Jewish philosopher Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel would say it this way: “Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself… in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible” (“The Reasons for My Involvement in the Peace Movement,” 1972).
The responsibility we carry for each other as part of a communal covenant is both a burden and a gift. When one person behaves badly or causes someone else harm, we are all implicated. However, we also are all assured that we are not alone in the work of accounting for our own faults and striving to do better. We all stand together before God, which is certainly easier than standing alone. We all draw strength from each other in our striving toward t’shuvah.
Practice for this day:
From whom do you draw strength? Who are the people – past and present – who have inspired you, defended you, encouraged you, guided you, and supported you? Think of a few of these people in your life and think of the ways that you express gratitude to them. Think of the ways that you return the favor by supporting them.