Could the formula for advancing American political life have been developed in the 16th century, in the small mystical community of Safed in Israel? There, the kabbalist Shlomo Alkabetz wrote the hymn “Lecha Dodi” sung each Friday night as we greet the Sabbath. The next to last verse begins: “Break out, right and left.”
Each morning a father enters our morning minyan with his two daughters. Before he drops them off at our school, he and his daughters put some money in the tzedakah box. One morning another worshiper, Norm Pell, approached me and reminded me of a beautiful midrash. When the women and men of Israel gave tzedakah, what did their children do? They watched, and learned what it is to help those in need.
God’s first words to the prophet Ezekiel are: “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak to you” (Ezek. 2:1). Reaching our full human height we are most ready to encounter God.
When a Jew has suffered a loss and tears a garment in mourning, the tearing takes place while the mourner stands upright. Confronting the pain and puzzlement of loss, standing upright signifies dignity and hope.
Here it is. The essential religious message in three words: stuff is inadequate.
Materialism is insufficient to explain the world. There is more to you than synapses. The marvelous, multicolored universe is not just an accident of ancient chemistry, or a random collection of molecules. There is an animating spirit that moves the world, barely glimpsed. Soul force comes from within us, but more, it moves through us. Because we only have words, we call it “God.”
by David Wolpe |
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. |
As powerful as the bond that tied the Jewish people to God was the one that tied the Jewish people to one another. Although Jews certainly quarreled — at times viciously — there was a depth to the care that Jews took of one another in ages past that should still touch and inspire us. In his memoirs, the great Yiddish writer Y.L. Peretz expresses it by capping a sad story with one, memorable line.