Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Dvar Torah on Vayikra

This morning I shared some brief words of Torah with the Jewish Legislative Caucus of the California Democratic Party. (Many thanks to my dear friend, Claire "Rainbow" Conlon, for the opportunity!)

I present them here to you, faithful blog-followers:

Shabbat Morning with the California Democrats - Jewish Caucus
Parshat Vayikra – March 8, 2014

Good Morning and Good Shabbos!

Yesterday … many of us in the Jewish professional world shared and spread around a Facebook post on this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra … in the form of a blog entry from “Punk Torah,” an unaffiliated, independent, mostly online community run by Rabbi Patrick Beaulier in Atlanta.

The title of the post was: “Is Judaism Programming Itself to Death?”

When I clicked on the link, the image that popped up was one with which I am all too familiar: a completely packed, all-blocked-out, weekly Google calendar snapshot. Lots of color, and events, and things going on … and very limited blank space.

I would imagine that many of us in this room know the image of the packed calendar all too well – whether we use Google or Outlook or … even … an old-school, actual, handwritten paper calendar. We know that image because … our lives are busy, our schedules meticulous, our “free time” not really that “free.” (pause)

Rabbi Patrick suggests that today, we who work in and serve the greater community structure our entire careers around “the calendar,” and specifically: programming and promotion … getting this person in the door, or reaching out to that segment of the population. We set a date, pick a location, promote the hell out of something, and put on an event … whether it’s Israel Advocacy, a Young Democrats breakfast, or even Election Day.

Now, back to Torah. Punk Torah, that is. Rabbi Patrick reminds us that at first blush this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, is a horrifying read. It’s all about animal sacrifice. We go from the grandiosity of Exodus – the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the building of the Tabernacle … to fire and brimstone and bloody, burned animals.

Of course, sacrifice here serves a greater purpose … it reminds us to draw near to God and community … the Hebrew word for a sacrificial offering, korban, is the same root as the verb, “to draw close,” likrov.

Rabbi Patrick suggests that the modern-day parallel of sacrifice … is the calendar. It’s the schedule that we so protect and keep. The endless programming we put ourselves and our communities and our families and our careers through … that’s our modern-day version of bloody, burning animal parts. It’s death by scheduling … and the worst part? It ignores the very reason people are drawn to Judaism … and progressive politics … in the first place…

Change. Relevance. Meaning. Making daily life a little bit more secure … ensuring that the future is a little bit brighter for the next generation.

And at the core of all that? People. Relationships. Connections. (pause)

Our imperative as modern Jews is to repair the world, not dominate itto mend what has been broken. That is the essence of tikkun olam and it is a hallmark of social justice.

But tikkun olam at its best isn’t really about the olam – the world. It’s about the anashim – the peoplewho reside within it, utilize its resources, help it to grow and flourish and progress … people are at the root of this endeavor that we call life. (pause)

When we begin to lose sight of that … when we become so dependent on our highly developed programming and our terrifyingly complex schedules … then, we lose sight of our real, authentic goals. We forget for whom we’re programming and scheduling in the first place… and we need a Shabbos … a respite … a re-fresh … to remind ourselves who we’ve committed our lives to and why. 

So this Shabbat morning, take a breath. Take a moment. Look around you. Look at the faces of those who are our future – the next generation of progressive politics in this state. Put down your smart phone and your Google calendar app … and I promise to do the same.

Remember that time – our time - is an extraordinary gift. A gift we must use wisely.

To paraphrase the philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel, “six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth. On the Sabbath we care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. Six days a week we seek to dominate the world; on the seventh day, we finally attend to the self.” (pause)

In the coming weeks and months as we in this room head into our respective busy seasons, let us remember … to take that breath. To connect – or reconnect – with the people for whom we do the work that we are so privileged to do.

Let us not be so bold as to throw away our calendars entirely … because then it might actually throw the world off its axis … but let us at least try to wean ourselves from that meticulous planning …  sit a little more comfortably in those blank spaces … and instead look up, lean out, and reach toward those whose hands meet ours.

Imagine the possibilities. Imagine the connections; the conversations. Imagine the power in those exchanges – however brief they may be. (pause)

It is my hope … and my prayer … that these breaths, pauses, and reconnections will enhance the work that we are already doing, and the people we already are. That they will make us even better at dancing with the busy-ness that rules our lives.

Then, and only then, will we truly work towards the California of our dreams – a California of dignity, strength, and promise.

Kein Yehi Ratzon. Shabbat Shalom.


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