Posts by Rabbi Mara Young

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Shavuot 5772 - Standing at Sinai

Based on Deuteronomy 30

Our Confirmands just read one of the most compelling pieces of Torah there is.  It asserts the significance of the Sinai moment: “I have called to witness today heaven and earth.”  This is God’s way of saying "the world is watching." In the case of our Torah reading this evening, the world is watching as the Israelites reassert their covenant with the Eternal. Time and again we see that they answer to the Law with these words: “we will hear and we will do.”  In hearing, they witness God’s power, they witness the wonder, and it drives them to act righteously.
Each year at Shavuot, we stand at Sinai to witness the charge again. We are reminded of a choice: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse…” Across the world, people of all faiths, including our own, sacrifice to the false idols of bias and hatred. Just as the Israelites constructed a false god at the base of the mountain, we too give in to our basest impulses.

Yet, according to the story, that wasn’t the end, was it? No false, golden god dictated who the Israelites really were. They repented, saw the error of their ways, and returned to the mountain, a new people. Our tradition condemns bigotry and loathing, it promotes empathy and love. Even when we give into the former, we can always return to the latter.

So tonight we gather again at Sinai. This is a gathering of peace, a gathering of understanding.  We focus again on what is right and just. We hear the call to uphold human dignity. We hear the call to defend the poor and the vulnerable, because we too have been poor and vulnerable.

We stand witness to the possibilities ahead of us. We hear it again: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; choose life so that you and your children may live.” Tonight we reassert our commitment to do so.

We have to do this, because not once does Torah say we are entitled to blessing.  Always, in every case, we earn it.  We earn blessing through walking darkhei noam, the paths of pleasantness.  We earn blessing by loving God and the eternal beauty that emanates from that love.  We earn blessing by hearing God’s voice, crying out not from a distant ocean or a mountain peak.  We hear it crying out from our own hearts - the conscience that will not yield, the basic human empathy that, when we stop to listen for it, guides us to life.

“I have called to witness today heaven and earth.” The world is watching.  What we do matters.  Tonight, here in this sanctuary, at our imagined Sinai, may we choose life so that we, our children, our neighbors and the strangers that dwell among us may live. May we choose life so that righteousness may live in not only our generation but also in the next. Ken yhi ratzon.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Graduation 5772

On Friday, May 18, we honored the 19 graduates of Woodlands Community Temple.  I shared the following drash:

Our Torah portion this week, Bekhukhotai, tells us one thing pretty clearly: if you follow all of God’s laws, things will go pretty well for you.  In particularly, the physical land of Israel will treat you well: it will rain, your crops will grow.  Your enemies won’t bother you, you’ll live in peace.

But the reverse comes into play too. If you don’t follow the laws, if you break the covenant, God will break it too.  You’ll be punished with some pretty nasty punishments: physical afflictions, starvation, expulsion…but don’t worry, Torah assures, if you abide by God’s rules, you can avoid all of this.

We wish it could be that easy. The truth is that the world we’re sending you out into is unfair.  You’ll be rewarded for no good reason; you’ll be punished for no good reason. Every time this happens, you’ll be surprised by it.

We know that, and our ancient ancestors knew that. Therefore, I don’t think the Torah is advocating that you try to find a deeper meaning in this chaotic reality of our world.  Rather, I believe it is telling us that our actions matter.

Your actions matter.  How you approach both the good and the bad in your life matters. And like God, all we can hope is that we’ve given you guidelines and values by which you can meet those unfair and fair challenges of the world. 

That’s in the written Torah; that is the Torah we’ve shared as a group over the years.  That is what we gird you with as your step out into the world.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Shabbat HaMoreh

Each year, Woodlands honors all those in the congregation who taught throughout the year: Religious School, Adult Education, special programs, aiding in the Religious School, etc.  Here's just one thought on the matter:

The late Maurice Sendak shared this in an interview:

“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”

This is precisely what we want for our children – we want them to consume Judaism voraciously. And not just them: it's also what we want for our adults.

We want you to see it, love it, eat it up

After all, that is why Torah is called honey on our tongues.  It is delicious!