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.

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