Yom Shabbat, 29 Heshvan 5778
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Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah--Re'eh

Saturday evening, my Red Bank community gathered in the nation’s first vigil responding to what happened in Charlottesville. It took an energetic young lady to pull together over 200 people for the purpose of facing hate in the face and demonstrating love. Somehow, the Red Bank Human Relations Advisory Committee received credit for sponsoring the event. I sit on that committee. Lori and I walked downtown to be there in support and upon arriving, I was told that not only was I a host, I was speaking. I stood in awe of the people – children and adults alike - who rallied, who interrupted plans, who knew that being together in this moment transcended everything else. I spoke alongside two other colleagues in ministry and the night atmosphere was blessed.Saturday evening, my Red Bank community gathered in the nation’s first vigil responding to what happened in Charlottesville. It took an energetic young lady to pull together over 200 people for the purpose of facing hate in the face and demonstrating love. Somehow, the Red Bank Human Relations Advisory Committee received credit for sponsoring the event. I sit on that committee. Lori and I walked downtown to be there in support and upon arriving, I was told that not only was I a host, I was speaking. I stood in awe of the people – children and adults alike - who rallied, who interrupted plans, who knew that being together in this moment transcended everything else. I spoke alongside two other colleagues in ministry and the night atmosphere was blessed.

All week, I have been stuck, struck with the anger, with a pit in the stomach that aches for Heather’s family and for the people who had to endure the gathering of hate in their community, and with sorrow over the realization that this incident is not new and not isolated. I deeply appreciate the response from the city’s mayor and the state’s governor. More than that, I appreciate the thousands of people who gathered in communities across the country, who came to Charlottesville to help heal the community, and who keep showing up to prepare communities to confront hate when it shows on their thresholds.

With all this going through my head, I sat down to prepare Torah for this Shabbat. Torah is a living and breathing document; we call it the “Tree of Life.” Sometimes, it shows incredible empathy in the most amazingly pointed ways. I opened a book to begin research and turned right to this teaching from Rav Avraham Mordechai of Gur, the 3rd Gerer Rebbe. Last week (Eikev), we read (Deut. 10:20) “You shall be in awe of Adonai, your God, worship and cleave to God and swear by God’s Name.” The Hebrew uses the second person singular in this verse; you as each individual. This week (Reeh), we read (Deut. 13:5), “You shall follow Adonai, your God, shall be in awe of God and keep God’s commandments, heed God’s voice, worship and cleave to God.” These verses would seem redundant, but here, the text uses the plural “you.” In the south, this is the difference between “y’all” and “all y’all.”

The Gerer Rebbe asks why the Torah would speak differently in the two verses. He posits that most often we can handle our relationship with God one on one, demonstrating our faith as we walk through the world. Sometimes, though, when heresy and anarchy seem to control the atmosphere, the power of the individual is seemingly insignificant. The faithful need to come together to form a mighty force for righteousness.  All I could do was put the book down and sit awestruck for the moment. Ok, as this epiphanic experience happens to so many of us, I have to believe that prophecy is real.

This week’s portion begins with a challenge. “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of Adonai your God, which I command you today; and the curse, if you will not heed the commandments of Adonai your God, but turn away from the way I command you this day, to follow other gods, which you did not know.” We make choices all day; every day. We determine what comes out of our mouths, what enters our hearts, and with whom we share our hearts. We choose whether to welcome each other’s embrace or repel each other with hate. We choose the blessing or the curse. Choice is an intentional act. For too many, they let everyone else choose for them, sitting passively waiting for fate to take hold. Many hold God accountable, somehow feeling that God is the ultimate chess player in the cosmos and we are simply pawns in the game of life. Faith tells us that choice matters and that we have ultimate say over our destiny. Our divine partner provides us with strength, but not with choice. Choice is in the human providence. According to the Gerer Rebbe, when enough of us choose the blessing, the world heals. I needed this affirmation this week. Shabbat Shalom.