Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah–R’eih
I have been blessed with some incredible teachers and mentors. Chanan Brichto, Ellis Rivkin, David Weisberg (all of blessed memory) shaped my seminary tenure at Hebrew Union College and my entire approach to our Jewish tradition. Gene Levy and Zeke Palnick (o.b.m.) are my Rabbis, but then, as Rabbi means teacher, I have to count Rev. Burt Wilson (o.b.m.), Rev. Fred Reese, Rev. Leo Woodberry, Rev. Mark Johnson, Rev. Mark Davis, Rev. Ken Golphin, Father Brian Cole, Imam Ihsan Bagby, and a host of other clergy and non-clergy for shaping and sharing the sacred journeys in my career and life. Cindy (o.b.m.) and Lori have been wonderfully patient and instructive to me, as have my own children and the hundreds I have adopted through the work that I am blessed to do.
Most of you have no idea who these people are. Some of you are disappointed that your names are not on this list, but … they are. I do my best to let people who touch my soul know that they have done so. Clearly, though, I am a product of the direction in which people have opened opportunities for me and the blessings and challenges that I have experienced along the way.
Ok, now, how many of us think that the last sentence applies to each one of us? Of course it does. We are products of nature and nurture. The amazing thing about my journey is that while my teachers and mentors set great examples for me, and held me along the way, I cannot remember any one of them telling me that there was “A” right way or “A” wrong way in which to journey. There were times that I screamed for direction and guidance, but in each case, the people who had the greatest influence on me, stood me up straight and told me to take first exploring steps … but did not direct which way I should go. They have walked with me, held me, caught me, supported me, cried with me and celebrated with me as I write the pages in my life story … my story, not their story lived vicarious through my life. For me, this has been one of the greatest expressions of love as well as a wonderful role model for how I should interact with others. No one walked away when I did not follow their lead, they walked with me, and we learned even more together. As I read Torah, this is how we are supposed to care for each other.
This week, Torah admonishes us, “See, I have placed before you the blessing and the curse.” The tribes are split: half go up Mount Gerizim and the other half up Mount Aeval. The tribes are not split between the good guys and the bad guys. There exist people atop the Mountain of Blessing who mess up and atop the Mountain of Curse who are saintly. The point of the text is to raise awareness that every day, people … all people … face challenges. The difference between the blessing and the curse is not who we are or which tribe (religion, nation, race, orientation, etc.) to which we belong, it is about what we do with whatever happens to us along the way. Things happen to us, and we decide what to do with them.
The purpose of Torah is not to give us stories to retell. It really is not even intended to give us direction. Its purpose is to spawn conversation, the conversation that helps us make meaningful decisions. The purpose of Torah is to teach paradigms for behavior: to give us the tools to make more sense out of the madness that the world throws at us and to better appreciate the blessings and opportunities available. In perhaps one of the most benign and overlooked verses in Torah (Deuteronomy 12:5), the character of God even affirms that the Torah’s purpose is not to provide marching orders, but rather inspiration.
We read that the location of where God is experienced through faith, not an imposed place set in stone around which we are to congregate. The role of God in Torah, as per Barukh Spinoza, was to provide a sense of the natural order. Where Torah presents us with guidance, it does so less because of a supernatural mandate than a perception of natural consequences. Where we are faithful, we make good decisions. Where we do not care, chaos reigns. It makes sense, to me, that the natural and organic way for us to empower each other is not to impose mandates, but to set an example for and influence … and support each other. Our job is to pay attention.
The greatest blessing I receive from my mentors and friends is the stability and support that holds me as I sift through the life choices with which I am presented. The tribes stand atop the mountains to let folks know that wherever they are on the spectrum, there is support. In the same sense, our friends encircle us to help keep us whole when we are at risk and to help us rejoice as blessings unfold. We learn as we walk the journey, and as we walk our journeys, we provide examples for those who look to us for support and guidance.
“L’dor vador, nageed gawdlekha … From generation to generation we will acclaim God’s greatness.” Each generation teaches the next: pay attention: grow the heart and the mind; and demonstrate enough love to help those who come after us enjoy even more blessings than the ones which we inherited. We protect the chain of transmission not by fiat, but by engagement. We mold our future not by getting things our way, but by journeying with each other, open to sharing the success, the failures, and everything in between.
To all who continue to teach me, thank you. For all for whom I am meaningful, pay it forward to others. Let’s turn the world that is into the one of blessing for which we pray.
Rabbi Marc A. Kline