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thinking beyond

01/21/2022 08:54:43 AM


Rabbi Boris Dolin

We know through the rituals and texts of our tradition that Judaism invites us to be on both an inward spiritual journey and also to keep our minds and ears open to the needs of the world around us.  The path of Jewish life invites us to be constantly working on our souls; to be always improving ourselves, nurturing our spiritual paths and strengthening our relationships.  Yet we are also asked to look outward, to be a “light” for the world, working to fix the brokenness and pain we encounter around us.  In the vocabulary of community building, we must constantly work on both “inreach” and “outreach”.

This holy task is outlined in this week’s Torah portion.  We begin with a story about Moses and his father in law Yitro, a non-Jewish Midianite priest.  Yitro watches Moses as he sits down to “judge the people” where the “people stood before Moses from the morning until the evening” (Exodus 18:13).  Yitro in his wisdom, expresses his concern that this kind of leadership and counsel will become an emotional and physical burden on Moses, that it will tire him out, and he suggests that he allow others to help him with his leadership:   “When Moses' father in law saw what he was doing to the people, he said, "What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you sit by yourself, while all the people stand before you from morning till evening?" (Exodus 18:14)  Soon after this we read about the preparations for the revelation on Mt. Sinai and the receiving of the Ten Commandments.  God says to Moses: “If you will obey me faithfully and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession (segulah) among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is mine, but you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6).   

Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel saw this statement as the representation of the inreach and outreach that we are called to do in Jewish life.  According to Kook, to be a kingdom of priests calls us to inspire the people of the world to live holy lives and to work towards justice and compassion for all peoples.  Yet to be an “am kadosh” a holy nation, also asks us also to look inward--to work on our spiritual selves and help to create a holy space for our relationships and our own spiritual journeys.  We must look deeply inward, and look outward at our work in the world to fully live up to God’s call to Moses.

I have always found this worldview to be one of the most powerful aspects of Jewish belief.  On the one hand Judaism is so much about holding on to our unique identity and history, and we should live our lives always learning about and fostering a connection to our people. We have to look inward and care for ourselves and our relationships, making sure to foster our spiritual lives.  This is why we gain so much strength from family, from music, from nature and for many, from the religious practices of Jewish life.  Yet we also have to look outward, and inspire others in our world to live holy lives, and to make sure that all peoples and those who are most different than us are respected so that our world can be filled with more justice and peace.  When we can live and grow in these two worlds, we can then truly be an “am kodesh” a holy people.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782