Rabbi Nickerson's Shabbat Message - August 19, 2022

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Lucky me! I had a summer full of travel – a family trip to Israel with about 50 members of the WBT community followed by vacation in Italy and contemplative time in the woods of Northern California – a respite from my busy daily schedule. These final weeks of August always mark a time of transition. Summer vacations come to an end, the kids go back to school, people return to the schedules that tend to dominate the majority of their year, and the daily demands begin to pile up. It can be an exciting time or one that provokes anxiety and added stress.

This week’s Torah portion also talks about transitions – the Israelites’ transition from a wandering people to a group who will finally settle in their Promised Land. Moses prepares our ancestors by discussing potential blessings, and curses, the Israelites may face upon entering their new homeland. Amongst the detailed warnings and reminders, there is one line that takes an otherwise complicated set of instructions and encapsulates everything in one straightforward statement; a statement meant to summarize what the Israelites must do in order to experience success:

“And now, O Israel, what does the Eternal your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the Eternal your God, to walk only in divine paths, to love and to serve the Eternal your God with all your heart and soul, keeping the Eternal’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today for your good.” (Deut. 10:12-13)

In two verses, we’re presented with the core principles necessary to ensure a healthy and successful transition for the Israelites, and I believe these five principles can help us in our own transitions – reverence, action, love, service, and guardianship.

“To revere” – We show reverence when we recognize that there are forces, people, and ideas that are worthy of respect and recognition. We express our reverence through the language we use, through our respect for life itself, through our commitment to community; through our support of the stranger; the orphan, the widow; through our adherence to the rule of law; through our regard and care for God’s natural world. We show reverence by sanctifying moments of significance; moments that mean something to us, no matter how small. When we show reverence, we actually gain a deeper appreciation for the world around us.

“To walk” – We walk a divine path when we walk through the world with a sense of purpose and when we serve as models for others on how to live ethical and meaningful lives. We are a people of action and therefore, we must ‘walk the walk’ and not just ‘talk the talk.’ We are more powerful when we put our ideas and beliefs into action.

“To love” - We are commanded to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves’. It is one of the most challenging of the 613 commandments laid out in the Torah. But in a world that seems to be more and more consumed by hateful speech and hurtful actions, the more love we can bring into the world, the more we’ll inch closer and closer to a collective Promised Land.

“To serve” – We were put here on this earth to serve. We don’t tend to use that language very often, leaving it instead to our Christian brothers and sisters, but when we really examine our Jewish texts, we learn that we are meant to be servants for a larger mission - we are here to repair the world! How can we make sure we are servants for the greater good, and not servants to technology, money, power, and status?

“To keep” – A better translation may be ‘to guard/protect’. We must guard our value system and the truth from those who wish to tear it down or undermine its relevance. We have been given a moral framework by our tradition and we have a responsibility to ‘guard’ that framework, incorporate it into our own lives, and pass it down to the next generation.

One of the things I appreciate about transitional moments is that they allow me to reset and re-visit the people, places, ideas, values, and priorities that can enhance my life. The next few months are going to be busy and exciting for me. I get to lead High Holyday services and look out at real people instead of just a video camera. My oldest daughter is starting high school. My middle daughter will become a bat mitzvah in October. The demands on my time seem to increase daily and yet, I know I can return to the five principles laid out in this week’s Torah portion to guide me, to strengthen me, to inspire me. Reverence, action, love, service, and guardianship – these are the concepts that I will keep close to my heart in the coming days, weeks, and months.

Shabbat Shalom,

Joel