Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Bechukotai

Tonight will be my last Friday night service on the pulpit of Monmouth Reform Temple. I have served here for eight years. We have accomplished a great deal of growth, defined a congregational mission, revamped congregational leadership, and our increased communal visibility has brought us into some wonderful and engaging partnerships. Personally, I have been blessed with experiences, opportunities, and friendships that I never could have imagined entering my life.

From Ecclesiastes (Chapter 3) we know, “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.” There was a time to come and there are times to leave. We may not always see that time coming or going; sometimes, life just happens. In our humanity, we succeed and fall short, but in every case, Torah commands us to look for blessings. For my part, we have been blessed to have each other.

The question that looms over all of us is simple, “What next?” For Lori and I, it will be a new community that wants me to bring my skills and love there. For MRT, it will be a new voice with whom to love and learn. There are, however, some ground rules for how we make these new engagements work in the best ways possible.

This week, Torah instructs us that if we do what is right with God, we will earn the blessings of peace and prosperity. If we fail to live accordingly, we will suffer. Of course, this pithy assertion begs the question, “What is right or wrong in God’s point of view?”

From my perspective, even while my human limitations cannot fathom the breadth of what an all-encompassing / all-everything God is or could be, our tradition shares a few thoughts on what we think are “best practices.” The Prophet Micah teaches us that God has told us what God wants from us, “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”

Justice – the path of engagement providing the greatest respect, dignity, equality, and equity for people, animals, nature, and the cosmos. Justice speaks to the ways in which we determine who gets what, how we dignify everyone/everything, how we rehabilitate and restore when we find error, and how do we plan for the next steps that serve everyone’s/everything’s best interest. Most importantly, “Justice is never Just Us.” We cannot know another person’s experience. We cannot hope to create rules and guidelines presuming that we do know what other people experience. We cannot hope to perfect Justice unless we are willing to listen with an open heart and learn with an unprejudiced mind.

Mercy – the Oxford Dictionary defines mercy as, “Compassion or forgiveness toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” The Talmud tells us that when God prays, it is that the Divine judgment is always tempered with the greater Divine mercy. Just because we may have a right to hold a grudge, doesn’t mean that we should. Often, in the moment, we think that someone wronged us, but on reflection, we see the episode with greater clarity. The accusation may be correctly levied against us, we may have misunderstood, it may be the accuser’s lack of understanding of the matter, or it was just a bad day. I am a firm believer that most bad acts result from our own fears and insecurities – and then as responses to the ways in which these maladies play out in the inter-human engagements. If we can learn to own our personal baggage and begin even the most challenging conversations mindful of another’s humanity, we can keep most situations from devolving into physical or emotional violence.

Humility – If we seek justice and practice mercy, it is because we are more concerned for each other than for ourselves. Humility is the act of being secure enough within oneself that one can appreciate those with different life experiences and even sacred beliefs, credit one’s teachers without needing to overshadow their influences with one’s successes, and lead by example and not draconian mandates.

Where our insecurity dismisses others because we disagree, when we feel compelled to keep reminding the world of how important we are, and when we feel threatened by another person’s beliefs or success, we stand in violation of all three facets of Micah’s prophecy.

The reward and punishment about which the Torah speaks is really only the deification of the natural order. IF we stay concerned for each other’s dignity and well-being, the world becomes safer, more loving, and more respectfully engaged with everyone and everything with whom/which we share the world. If we want the world to heal, we must first look into ourselves with open and forceful integrity. Let there be peace on earth – it must begin with me.

Shabbat Shalom.