Rabbi Leder's Shabbat Message: May 22, 2020
There are jokes about Jews wandering in the desert and innumerable real examples of us being kicked around the globe throughout history. We are the quintessential diasporic people, so much so that the term wandering Jew has become a regular part of our cultural vocabulary. There’s even a plant commonly known as a Wandering Jew whose name derives from an 800 year old Christian legend about a Jew who ridiculed Christ and was forced to wander the earth until the Second Coming; which as far as I know means he’s still at it. Wandering is not generally thought of as a good thing. We equate it with aimlessness, confusion, stupidity even; if you are wandering, then you must be lost.
Personally, I love wandering in the desert. I love the intense, thick silence that heightens the sound of a single bird calling from far away. I love the searing heat and rocky paths that force me to take slow, deliberate steps, pause and pay attention. I crave solitude and the peace I feel hiking into a cluster of boulders knowing that no one else in the entire world knows exactly where I am at that moment. I marvel at the eons required to unearth boulders from beneath the earth and round their edges with the wind; reminders of just how brief is the span of years given to even the most fortunate. We are all—impermanent. Those boulders, all that sand, the essentialism of the landscape--muted browns, sages and grays--makes me feel small in comparison to the vast eternality and greatness of God’s creation. Of course, the desert is dangerous too—rattlesnakes, scorpions, dehydration, heat stroke, hypothermia, the risk of a fall and a broken bone far from the car. The desert punishes arrogance and haste; demanding that we approach each step with heightened respect. Maybe that’s why Moses was commanded to remove his shoes when he encountered God in the desert. Only slowly, painfully, thoughtfully—may you stand before the One.
The book of Torah we begin this week is called B’midbar—In the wilderness,” and much of it describes our people’s wandering through the Sinai desert to the Promised Land. Those forty years of wandering transformed us from a group of disparate tribes and individuals with the mentality of slaves, into a people with a common destiny, love of Torah and God. In that sense, those years were not so much a wandering as a journey through lessons that could only be learned with slow, deliberate steps and great humility in the face of beauty and danger.
Like everyone, I have moments of great anxiety in the midst of this pandemic. I sometimes cannot see a path forward for my kids, for the Temple’s schools and camps, for the Audrey Irmas Pavilion, for our nation and the world. I often project confidence, but I know I am making it up as I go. When that panic and pessimism set in, I work hard to remember that wandering is not the same as being lost. Far from it. It is the rarest of opportunities to summon our humility in the face of danger; to journey as if barefoot and alone in the desert--slowly, deliberately, thoughtfully through the beautiful and the harsh on our way to the Promised Land…
With love and Shabbat shalom,