Shabbat Nitzavim/VaYelekh: Finding Firm Ground in all this Chaos

In all these years of finding good lessons and food for thought in our shared Torah study, we have faced many challenges together and sought their meaning for our lives as Jews.

This Shabbat is no different. The chaos intensifies around us until we want to scream Dayenu! “It’s enough!” The plagues increase in number and in impact:

*a criminal president whose abetters are dismantling the social supports of our lives
*an economic crisis of unemployment and houselessness
*a worldwide pandemic in which the U.S. response ranks near the bottom of them all
*more people dying each week than died in the September 11 2001 massacre we mourn today
*the unveiling of the police as a force hostile to civil rights and democracy
*the murderous persecution of Black, Indigenous, Trans, Queer, of Color, and other people
*and now, wildfires

Here’s what your Jewish tradition offers you on this Shabbat as you question the meaning of these days for your life: the double parashah whose two words mean “firmly rooted” and “going.” And this is exactly what we need: a way to remain firmly rooted within that which keeps us sane and able to function, while we move, quickly and clearly, to stay safe and aid others in doing so. 

If you are evacuating, reach out to us by email or text. 
If you have a room or unit to offer the displaced, let us know.

What’s the Torah of all this? What’s the learning? How is being and doing Jewish possibly going to help?

You won’t know until you do it. You can’t know until you experience it for yourself: the ritual, the prayer, whatever is our mitzvah, our Jewish obligation, at a given moment.

For this evening, it will be noting that it’s sundown and lighting candles to mark it. How incredibly powerful that moment will be, as we consider both how strange a sunset it is, and how precious and terrifying a candle flame is. Anyone might take a moment to notice sunset or light a candle, but Jews are commanded to, and to recite a blessing at that moment, to ensure that we’ve noticed, and considered, and thought about it.

For tomorrow, it will be joining us for Torah study and/or Tefilah, perhaps while you say “I can’t concentrate on this!” There’s a reason why Torah study and prayer are mitzvot, obligations, and not merely what you do when you feel like it: these obligations are to yourself. They give you a sorely-needed moment to think about something else, to change your perspective to the millennial, and to remember that you are grounded in a deep and rich belonging

For tomorrow evening, it will be joining in our yearly Selikhot prayers. This once a year opportunity to consider our deeds and their impact as human beings is incredibly necessary to us, especially now. The details are below.

And next week, we will find our rootedness in the mitzvah of gathering whenever we can as we move through the emergencies of the days to come, to check on each other through daily minyan, Talmud study, or a quick phone call or email. 

Next erev Shabbat will begin Rosh HaShanah 5781. No matter what happens between now and next Friday, it will be Rosh HaShanah, and Jews will find our security in the familiar rituals. All the details for High Holy Days have been shared in emails and in the Week’s Worth. Please look again at this week’s edition for the Seder details. Maybe we’ll even sing dayenu…

Hold tight to what matters. To your place with us, in Jewish community and history and meaning. To acts that unfold meaning and purpose to us as we do them. To the Presence that we seek through all these acts and words – as the mystics say, the Place of the world, or what the Psalmist calls the Holy One of Being, where we all find our place.

Only one thing I ask of HaShem, only one thing I seek:
to dwell in HaShem’s house all the days of my life,
to gaze at the beauty of the world, and to see its holiness.

(Psalm 29)