This is another take on something I've written and spoken about before, how and why I chose to stay in America because of my engagement with quintessential American themes of freedom and individuality. I spoke about this last Shabbat, in anticipation of Independence Day 2022. It's published here at the Times of Israel.
Posted at 07:27 PM in #integratingamerica, Calendar, Community Relations, Conservative Judaism, Current Affairs, Election, Ethics, Exodus, Freedom, History, Holidays, Inclusion, Jewish Education, Justice, Study, Synagogue, Talmud, Tikkun Olam, Tov! Podcast, Tzedakah, Tzedek, USA, Young Jewish Adult, Youth | Permalink | Comments (0)
This was the D'var Torah I gave for Parashat Behar on May 21, 2022.
Whenever people suggest that Judaism could be separate from politics, I think about this week’s parasha. The Shabbaton and the Yovel (the sabbatical and the jubilee) – these mitzvot are not just personal and spiritual teachings, about what you eat and what you share. They are about the whole system of property and ownership and power, and about our relationship to the land and the ecosystem that provides our food.
Every seven years, it doesn’t matter who owns a field and who has stored up food from the year before. Everyone has access to all of it, and everyone comes side by side to get food from the land and from private storehouses, and maybe they even eat together. Every fifty years, it doesn’t matter who has bought or sold a piece of land and who lives where. All families go back to the land holdings originally given to them in the time of Yehoshua when the people first came into the promised land. Wealthy families give back what they have bought legitimately; poor families are restored to what they needed to sell.
None of this happens individually or one at a time. Both the Shabbaton and the Yovel happen to everyone at the same time, in every region of the land. It is a social experience around property and wealth and power that is shared all at once, by society as a whole.
It occurred to me this week that Shabbaton and Yovel are far more radical than even the Exodus itself, the overturning of Pharaoh, which I have taught often and recently was unlike anything ancient people had ever thought previously about the value of human beings and about power. The Exodus was unprecedented – but it was in response to a situation of actual group suffering, imposed by a specific oppressor. Shabbaton and Yovel are not in response to any specific instance like that. They are pre-programmed responses to the regular things that happen in a society where people work the land and trade food and labor and exchange property. They are for a society that also has good ideas of tzedakah (giving) and chesed (caring acts), which individuals are responsible to carry out.
Without the need for painful suffering on a massive scale, or mobilizing against a tyrant, the Torah in Leviticus 25 mandates the overturning of our relations in the economy and society, making it all change visibly in the open every seven years and every fifty years.
Maybe the end of the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) is the real bookend to the beginning of the Exodus. Exodus begins with our ancestors as slaves building cities for Pharaoh’s regime, and it ends with them building the opposite -- the Mishkan, a spiritual central for the regime of Hashem. “Let them make me a Sanctuary and I will dwell among them,” says Exodus. But now, nearly at the end of Leviticus, people imagine building a system for recalibrating their society on the go, making sure no one can permanently accumulate Pharaoh-like wealth and power over the others. “For to Me the Children of Israel are servants,” says the end of Leviticus – and the Talmudic rabbis explain: For to Me they are servants and not servants to other servants, not slaves to each other. Shabbaton and Yovel are the social and political inoculation against more Pharaohs, even a Pharoah among the Israelites themselves.
Political this is – and yet, it’s not. I’m using the word politics a bit fast and loose, because Parashat Behar does not show us politics in action. We know the sabbatical year was implemented in ancient times and still is today, and in Roman times and modern times there has been politics around it. We have no idea whether the jubilee really ever happened exactly the way the Torah stipulates. Our parasha describes an ideal society, and we can think about the moral and spiritual principles the parasha teaches. But the actual outcome could only be ensured through political activity.
Saying the Torah has social visions doesn’t itself prove that there is a Torah of politics and political action. I love to bask in Shabbaton and Yovel, any excuse to do that is dayenu – but I want to say more about the Torah of political action, which in a way only begins with things our parasha.
I want to use a distinction proposed by Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, though I will take it in a slightly different direction. You may be starting to recognize the Hartman name and Yehuda’s name in particular from many of my d’rashot. For the past few years Yehuda has been teaching around the idea that American Jews ought to distinguish in our civic activity between the moral, the political, and the partisan. Briefly, Yehuda defines the moral as our core social principles; the political as our collaborative strategy and work in society; and the partisan as the activity we do typically within either of the two teams, the Democrats and the Republicans. Yehuda argues that it is bad for America and particularly bad for Jews when we don’t distinguish between the moral, the political, and the partisan.
The moral refers to the principles and values we hold, which generate our ideas about the good society, and the actions we actually perform toward other people and in groups of people we know. The moral is also about working on ourselves as people in society. It’s about being honest about our own individual gifts and our own individual limits. It’s about asking ourselves why we care about this more than that, looking at our own inconsistencies and hypocrisies. The moral is where we make judgments, often about others though it should also be toward ourselves. The moral is about how we do teshuvah around our action and inaction in society -- how we hold ourselves accountable and recalibrate ourselves, as well as the smaller groups within which we talk about politics or we organize. The moral dimension is very spiritual and obviously very Jewish.
The political – I want to use the word in its Aristotelian sense. Not “yeech, politics”, but the elevating work of defining and creating the polis, the best society that is both aligned with our moral values and also cultivates those values at the same time. We are only real in society, and political activity enlarges us and elevates us and completes us. The political brings people together in purposeful work, helps us each discover our gifts and how they fit together, and shows us new things to admire about each other.
The political magnifies our power to achieve visions, on a scale not possible just by small group projects or even by giving tzedakah. The political is how we find the power to bring a society into alignment with the ideals of Shabbaton and Yovel.
The political is also the level where groups ought to try to understand themselves, and look at their own strengths and weaknesses and hypocrisies. Groups need to do teshuvah as well. This is spiritual work and Jewish work, and indeed the Torah presents the Jewish people as a group trying to learn the detailed social covenant from Mt. Sinai, to internalize it and build a society based on it in the promised land.
Finally, the partisan is working for the party and candidates we believe right now can bring our moral and political visions into being. It’s mobilizing behind the specific leaders and groups we believe can do that. When we use the word “politics”, Yehuda points out, what we usually mean is the partisan – picking sides, zero sum, experiencing outrage and supporting one group and being angry at the other.
The moral, the political, the partisan.
Yehuda argues that we have too often collapsed the distinction between the moral, the political, and the partisan. If all we let ourselves look at is the partisan, that becomes our good and evil and our daily religion. We will lose important parts of our moral compass to the extent that most of what we can think about or desire is that our group or favored leader wins. We need the moral as something separate, Yehuda says – and I would add (in my name if not his) that we need the political as distinct from the partisan as well.
People who object to having politics in Judaism say: Stick to the moral. But the moral alone is too general. Saying Tzelem Elohim (the image of God) does not tell us why we should care about Ukraine in this way and Afghanistan in the same way or perhaps a different way. Talking about Shabbaton and Yovel does not tell us what the tax rates should be on income or wealth. Moral principles frame the questions and suggest directions but don’t give us answers. From the moral we need those directions, and we need to circle back to the moral principles when we are doing political thinking and political work.
We need also all the processes of teshuvah – assessing ourselves and what we are bringing to political action, checking our hypocrisy and self-righteousness, making sure we are rooted more in love for those we responsible for or allies for, and less rooted just in hate of those we are against.
Too much of religious politics is the partisan alone, and that is bad for religion generally and terrible for Jews. The partisan is where work is done and things are accomplished. But it is a realm of constant fighting; it cultivates hate and anger and fear. It discourages nuance and punishes ambiguity, and it asks us to hold up as absolutely true things that are only partially true. When we equate all politics with the partisan, the losses that come inevitably in the partisan make all political work angry and fearful and dispiriting and draining, even when we have won something for the time being.
Yehuda says we rent out our moral sense too often to the partisan; and since the partisan is win-lose, our moral judgments become binary as well. Our fellow citizens are good or evil. Our fellow Jews. Yehuda quotes a Pew study that says as much bias as there is, explicit and implicit, against people of other backgrounds, whether religious or ethnic or racial or educational or economic, the most widespread hate in America is toward people of different partisan affiliation.
The moral is crucial; the partisan is where the rubber hits the road. But neither the moral that supplies our core principles, nor the partisan where we accomplish our goals or we lose -- neither of these should be the center. At the center should be the political. At the center should be the political for each of us spiritually, and for us as a Jewish community learning and acting and reflecting.
The political is where we ask how our principles translate, where we ask it again and again, even while we are strategizing and even as we are executing our strategies. We ask whether we are being true to our principles or just think we are.
The political is where we take time from the practical battles to appreciate and admire others: the leaders who motivate us, the teachers and writers who educate us, the people who bring the signs and the food and crunch the numbers. It’s where we see ourselves in a good light as part of such an organism.
The political is where we try to understand those we are fighting against -- for the principles they might have, for the people they are loving and standing up for. These are aspects of our opponents we might learn from or at least learn to answer, if only to make our own moral arguments stronger.
The political isn’t something you do by yourself. It’s not sermons and it’s not Facebook posts, unless they invite conversation. The political is together, and sometimes it even can be done together by partisans opposing each other. It’s what I hope tomorrow’s panel on reproductive rights will model. It’s what groups a lot of you have been involved in doing in your own political work in the local community.
It's not enough for the synagogue to do the moral, and of course we should not be doing the partisan. It’s not good for religion to stay in a corner, or to make itself indistinguishable from a political party. But the political yes, sometimes all together as us and sometimes when we lift up one issue or sometimes when we’re in a learning posture about ourselves as people engaged in the political. That is very much what a religious group should do, and what Jews should do together.
And in that sense, maybe Shabbaton and Yovel are political. Apart from the practical sharing and resetting around food and property, they were ways to get people talking about the world of years 1-6 and years 1-49, and maybe even working on that politically. Or so I fantasize. Our next half year in this country is going to be intensely partisan, and that will be hard. Let’s do our part to elevate the time, by making it more political as well.
If you're a fan of "The Good Place" and at all connected to Jews or Judaism, try out my new podcast that I'm creating with a bunch of colleagues!
Tov! is on all the major podcast platforms, and it will be a fun and interesting way to explore some Jewish texts and ideas. Check out the website for episodes and show notes, or search for it in your app and try it out!
It's launching right as we begin Elul, the month in the Jewish calendar leading to Rosh Hashanah. This is the time of year when we're all Eleanor Shellstrop, trying to improve our lives as though everything is in the balance.
Posted at 11:06 AM in Calendar, Education, Ethics, Foregiveness, Gossip, Harry Potter, High Holidays, Holidays, Hope, Jewish Education, Lashon Hara, Leadership, Middot, Rosh Hashanah, Soul, Study, Talmud, Television, Teshuvah, Tikkun Olam, Tzedakah, Web/Tech, Weblogs, Yamim Noraim, Young Jewish Adult, Youth | Permalink | Comments (0)
I've had fun making these, and hopefully you'll enjoy learning a bit about Purim and the month of Adar, one short bit at a time. A couple more are coming in the next few days. "Hamentashen for thought"!
You can click on the video and watch it here, expand it, or click on the three horizontal lines toward the top that appear, which will reveal the whole playlist.
I just finished these thoughts. They are a combination of commentaries, reflection pieces, discussion prompts related to the Seder text, the Pesach Haggadah. You could read them before or after a Seder, or even during. Wishing everyone a good festival and a Zissen (sweet) Pesach.
For my NH undecided friends, and for people out there in states voting soon who haven’t picked a candidate:
I’m not registered as a member of a political party, but on Tuesday I am going to take a Democratic ballot and vote for Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
I didn’t decide finally until about a week ago. I’ve been thinking about a small number of candidates, some of whom aren’t in the race anymore and some of whom are. I just posted about how it is that I go about choosing whom to vote for in general, and hopefully this post will look like an application of what I wrote there.
I have heard Senator Klobuchar speak twice now in person. Apart from the policy proposals, which she shares with some of the other candidates, Sen. Klobuchar has a combination of intelligence, forcefulness joined to openness, and humor. She has a record of accomplishment on matters large and small, first in her (my!) home state of Minnesota and then as a Senator in Washington in the most challenging legislative environment in recent memory. She feels a connection to people whose lives are affected by what public policy has and has not done, and that connection seems rooted in her biography and the story of her family. She has a record of building coalitions beyond the Democratic Party. She projects in her words and her public manner the qualities of decency, dignity, and empathy that belong in the Oval Office.
One of the hardest things in the campaign is going to be battling with President Trump and talking about divisive issues and where division is coming from, while also staying connected to as many Americans as possible. Even without President Trump, the political environment would be polarized. Solutions in Congress to complex problems like health care and immigration reform have been elusive. I am looking for someone whose whole package of leadership skills and experience under fire gives her a fighting chance to detoxify our politics and also make an impact. Of the candidates remaining, Sen. Klobuchar strikes me as the one with the best chance to do all of that.
It also means something to me that she has the support of people in my community whose wisdom and fundamental values I know and trust such as Joe Foster, Helen Honorow, Bill Barry, and Rep. Latha Mangipudi.
For people in the Jewish community who wonder about issues of special concern to us, Senator Klobuchar has a record of supporting Israeli security as an American national interest, and being part of what has been and should be a bipartisan consensus on Israel’s right to self-defense and the desire for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She has spoken out against anti-Semitism in our society.
I like to think I am not voting for Sen. Klobuchar just because of the Minnesota connection (though it doesn't hurt!)
I have thought about Mayor Buttigieg, whom I admire particularly for his reflectiveness and his willingness to talk about faith and about moral dilemmas in leadership. I think it says a lot about him that after Harvard and other experiences he chose to go back and try to make a difference where he came from even though it’s a small city, not the center of the world. Executive governmental experience is very important to the job of president. I think Senator Klobuchar has more experience and mettle for the job at hand in all its dimensions today.
I admire Sen. Warren particularly for her work on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was one of the most important actions with teeth that was created after the financial crisis. Exploitation in finance isn’t as easy to talk about as health care or education. The lessons Sen. Warren draws from her personal history are also compelling. What has put me off have been some of her attacks on people or groups who disagree with her. There is a way to disagree and to work strongly from one’s principles without mocking people or painting all opponents on an issue with the same brush, whether it’s a social issue or an economic one. Right now, we need a leader who is especially good at both winning and not-demonizing.
There is a lot of good in Vice President Biden’s record and his long experience, and also some bad policy judgment in that record. I admire the clarity of Sen. Sanders, and have been thinking more and more about his take on wealth and inequality and poverty than I have in a long time. I have in the past had less of a black-and-white approach about wealth (see my previous post, referring to philosopher John Rawls), but even if I agreed with Sen. Sanders, this is a moment when a politics that rebuilds the center is also necessary if we are really going to make headway on issues related to inequality (also see my previous post). Because of that, I haven’t done a lot of looking into his record or story.
If you’ve read some of my previous posts or blogs about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it won’t surprise you that I have issues with recent statements from both Sen. Sanders and Sen. Warren.
I thought briefly about taking the Republican ballot and voting for Governor Weld to make a statement about the president. But as I wrote in the other post, I do not vote for symbolism but to make an impact.
So I have made my choice. I will be voting for Senator Amy Klobuchar this Tuesday, after being undecided for longer than I can ever remember being. Good luck making your choice well, and see you at the polls.
This is an attempt to write down something I’ve never written out before: how I decide whom to vote for in elections for national office. This is how I understand what I am doing. There’s plenty here to discuss or argue about.
Voting is in one way the most morally consequential thing we do. The outcome of a vote, especially for national office, has far more of an impact that the generous or committed acts of most individuals (myself, at least) or the money we give to nonprofits.
It’s worth approaching the vote in the spirit of Rabbi Moses Maimonides’ teaching that we should always regard the world as in a perfect balance between merit and guilt, such that our next act will decide whether we will earn a judgment of merit or a judgment of destruction. While most elections are not decided by our single vote, we know well that they can be. It’s important to vote with the thought that your vote could be the one that decides about budgets and military actions and how laws are implemented and enforced. Who will eat and who will go hungry, whose illnesses will be researched and treated, whose lives will be risked in battle, who will live or die in another land because America does or does not act in those places.
I am writing this as an American patriot, a lover of my country, who is also a Jew trying to follow the spiritual and ethical teachings of my Torah and aware of my place in the long history of the Jews. I have for a decade not been registered with a political party. Political acts and decisions are religious acts for me; the parties are practical instruments.
If I had to put this into a flow chart, this is how I break it down. I’m going to do all of this in theory, conceptually.
At the root for me is an idea that the political philosopher Michael Walzer puts this way: “[T]hink of the welfare of the most vulnerable people in the country. And then vote, gladly, for the candidate who minimizes their vulnerability.”
There is a lot here. Walzer (who is worth knowing a lot about, and I should write about him separately sometime) says right before this quote that it’s not about whether you like or inspired by a candidate, or whether you judge the candidate to be a good person in some fundamental way (more on this below). It’s about what that person can deliver in terms of the most vulnerable.
I think this would be an ethical imperative for me regardless of my Jewish principles. For me it’s a fundamental part of Torah. I generally apply this in the spirit of the political theorist John Rawls. Rawls argued that inequality, or something that increases inequality, can be justified morally so long as it also benefits the most vulnerable in society.
And Walzer argues that today, the first part of that is to minimize vulnerability. There is also a step beyond that, which is transforming the conditions that allow anyone to be vulnerable – but first, who minimizes their vulnerability.
The vulnerability I have always thought about first is economic vulnerability – whether it’s not being able to afford adequate shelter or food, or not being able to afford adequate medical care. With that, I have thought about economic vulnerability that comes from discrimination, on the basis of color and other bases, and the discrimination itself. More lately, I have come to think much more about the vulnerability of refugees.
1. So first I want to know – does the candidate even care? And not just about certain vulnerable groups, but about all of them. Everyone has blind spots, and many have come up through the ranks on the basis of work on behalf of a particular group. But caring only about vulnerable whites or vulnerable people of color, to the exclusion of other vulnerable people, isn’t enough.
This isn’t only about policies. I think certain policy approaches show more caring about vulnerability. But I’m always open to the candidate who argues for why another approach is also caring and is effective. Anyone who is sincere makes my first cut. Even if the policies being offered have been associated in the past, or are associated today, with people or groups who clearly don’t care about the most vulnerable.
2. Walzer argues specifically about our era that ‘[w]hat the most vulnerable people need right now is the protection afforded by a strong constitutionalism. The defense of civil liberties and civil rights… -- this is a centrist politics.” I would add another element to this “centrism”, which is a defense of the idea of America as a whole, made up of different groups with different origins and with different philosophies.
Some of this is about policies and the ways laws are enforced. It’s also about a political culture – the responsibility not to divide. I look for a candidate who speaks about America expansively and inclusively in her or his rhetoric, and who can disagree with passion without demonizing.
3. There are two things I think about next: Are the candidate’s policies reasonable approaches to minimizing vulnerability? Is the candidate someone who could actually accomplish something that minimizes vulnerability?
While these two don’t come in a particular order, I have been thinking more and more about the second question, the leadership dimension. One candidate might have a better set of policy ideas, but be a terrible leader – ineffective, bad at mobilizing people, wilting under pressure, and/or polarizing. Having that person in office hardly minimizes the vulnerability of the vulnerable.
The “How To Be President” initiative I helped found is about aspects of leadership beyond policy choices. I am looking for a leader who is clear-eyed about things like failure and compromise; who has forcefully, driven-ness and humility; who knows that not all your allies are good people and not all your opponents are evil; who has a way of thinking about how decisions at the top affect everyone; who has a way of knowing how to ache when policies fail or ignore some Americans, and when to push through in the face of that pain.
4. There are also Jewish issues, meaning issues of the interests of the Jewish community. A lot of Jewish issues are covered already in the earlier passes -- particularly with regard to hate, bias, discrimination, religious freedom for minorities. But other things being relatively equal, the candidate who has a blind spot about anti-Semitism will fall back in my line.
Then when it comes to Israel, I am looking for the candidate who believes Israel is a fundamentally democratic country; who understands the dangers Israelis live with in their region; who supports justice for both Jews and Arabs in Israel-Palestine and does not place the responsibility for the conflict solely on Israelis; who knows that most Jewish-American supporters of Israel have no truck with Muslim-haters, racists and the religiously intolerant just because those people might also support Israel.
5. Usually, these cover everything for me in the decision tree. Sometimes, in a given election, there is a specific issue of the moment. I reserve the right to figure out where it should fit in my general scheme.
I never get someone who is perfect on all these criteria. Elections are always choices between two or more actual candidates. Each time, I try to assess who is best overall on these criteria, and I figure out how I am going to weigh each consideration as I go. If the choices each have serious flaws, I don’t know how I am going to “dock” for them until I do it.
I don’t vote to feel good about what I believe or to have the satisfaction of “being right.” Lives are on the line. As long I keep my eye on why I am voting, whose lives depend on my vote, I believe I am doing the best I can.
One way to experience Pesach (Passover) is: Two nights of Seder, followed by a week of matzah. Two nights of a unique happening – around a table, with people very familiar and/or new to you, part recitation and part roleplaying, with symbolic foods and special foods, detours for discussion, hopefully much singing. Then – a week of just figuring out how to eat.
In fact, Pesach is meant to be so much more expansive. A long, immersive experience of first-time freedom. The Seders are supposed to launch us into a week-long new year festival. We’re intended to continue to read and reflect on the meaning today of our people’s Exodus from Egypt. We’re meant to experience freedom as though these were our first free days and our first free steps.
The Seder scripts the very first steps, just as the Torah says our ancestors were guided step-by-step through the days leading up to and through the first Pesach. But part of freedom for them meant that they didn’t have a simple script for the next days, the first days as a free nation.
And it’s the same for us. It’s on us as Jews to define what those first days of freedom are going to be like. We have special food for the journey – matzah and other Kosher for-Passover things. What will we make out of our freedom?
In the Talmud, the sages Rav and Shmuel argue over what freedom essentially means. Shmuel says the story of the Exodus begins: “We were slaves in Egypt.” Rav says: “Long ago, our ancestors worshipped false gods.”
For Shmuel, the story culminates in the final escape from Pharaoh. For Rav, the story peaks when the Jews arrive at Mt. Sinai, to make a covenant and speak directly with God. Shmuel argues that the Exodus is primarily about physical and political oppression. So Pesach is a celebration of being freed from tyrants and tyrannies.
Rav argues that it’s about spiritual oppression, about being freed as well from the falsehoods of Egypt. So Pesach is about how we get ourselves to Mt. Sinai, how we decide to use our freedom.
This year, we need both a Shmuel perspective and a Rav perspective on our situation as Jews. We should use the whole of Pesach, not just the Seders, to reflect and learn about what it means to be free Jews today, and commit ourselves to some actions as a result.
In a Shmuel perspective, we need to reflect and learn about anti-Semitism, from the murders in Pittsburgh to the slanders of Rep. Omar. Here’s a book to read during Pesach, if not before: Anti-Semitism: Here and Now by Emory University Professor Deborah Lipstadt. Prof. Lipstadt is one of the most sought-out teachers and commentators on the matter. She is a Holocaust scholar, the central figure in a major trial in the U.K. about Holocaust denial, and someone up close to campus anti-Semitism from the left. Read her book or find her writings online.
And if you have been feeling paralyzed by reappearance of anti-Semitism in any or all of its forms – resolve to take some action. If you are within a group that needs to be called out, do that from the inside. If you can be an ambassador for Jews and Judaism, among people who might know very little, do that. Invite someone to services with you, or invite them to coffee with you and if you like with me.
In a Rav perspective, we should remember that true freedom has to be for something, toward something. Pick something new to learn about Judaism. Come to a class, engage with the weekly Torah reading online or with a study partner or with me. Get your own copy (or borrow a child’s copy!) of Rabbi Telushkin’s Book of Jewish Values. While you are eating your matzah, resolve on a way you can strengthen our own Jewish community. In a joyful way, through Shabbat meals or at services or celebrations. Or when we need each other the next time you see an announcement about a house of mourning.
And as you take your first steps from Pesach toward Mt. Sinai, think about the next mitzvah that your soul is begging to focus on. It could be some aspect of tzedakah (giving) or lashon ha-ra (gossip). Maybe you even want to partner up with someone to do it together – create the next Beth Abraham tzedakah collective, or buddy up on a gossip management project and check in each week!
Whatever you do – don’t let Pesach just be about something that happened more than 3000 years ago. Don’t let the days after the Seder slip away without savoring the first moments of freedom and responsibility, without noticing that the way you’ll notice every crumb of matzah in the seat cushions!
Wishing all of you a Zissen (Sweet) and Kosher Pesach,
This Shabbat is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, the new moon marking one month before Rosh Hashanah. I want to invite all of you into a challenge with me: the Elul Love Your Neighbor Study Challenge.
Part of the process of teshuvah (returning, redirecting ourselves) is studying what the Torah says about relationships between people and our responsibilities in the world. One of the unique ways the Jewish community can reshape the world in the new year is by bringing into action our teachings about compassion and justice.
What better way to start doing both of those things than to study this month a verse that is at the literal center of the Torah: וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ V’ahavta l’ray’acha kamocha “Love your neighbor as yourself”
The tradition of Jewish commentary on this phrase, each word within it, and its context in the Torah make clear that this is not some vague and gooey teaching. Rather, it opens up a set of challenges and questions that we have to figure out how to apply in our personal lives and as citizens.
I would like to study this verse during the month of Elul, between now and Rosh Hashanah, with at least 75 people. I hope many will be people who don’t already usually study Torah.
When and How:
If you are interested in hosting a study salon at your home, or setting up some study time with me for yourself or a small group at the synagogue or another place, contact me as soon as possible! Or, come to one of these ready-made opportunities:
Love Your Neighbor Café (coffee, tea, etc are on me!)
Thursday, Aug. 16 10:00-11:00 a.m. A&E Coffee Roasters, 135 Rte 101A, Amherst
Friday, Aug. 17 10:30-11:30 a.m. Buckley’s Bakery and Café, 436 Daniel Webster Hwy, Merrimack
Wednesday, Aug. 22 1:00-2:00 p.m. The Village Bean, 33 Indian Rock Rd (Rte 111), Windham
Tuesday, Aug. 28 11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Riverwalk Café, 35 Railroad Square, Nashua
Lunch Hour Torah – call in or participate by video through the web
12:00-1:00 p.m. Aug. 14, 22, or 30
Just click https://zoom.us/j/5530075723 or call (929) 436-2866 or (669) 900 6833, use meeting ID 553 007 5723
Beit Midrash In-Depth Study Session – 2 Hours of Torah (With Snacks)
6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, August 16 and Tuesday, August 28
at Temple Beth Abraham (20 minute interlude for minyan at 7:30 p.m.)
I hope this sparks many conversations. I know I will learn a lot through this learning together, about ethics and relationships and even politics, and we will figure out ways to share what we learn. I'll post updates on how far we are toward the surface goal of the challenge, and include a small taste of the topic in my regular Elul e-blasts.
May this be a step toward a Shana Tova Umetukah, a good and sweet New Year!
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov, a good new month,