Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – T’rumah

A couple has their daughter and her fiancé over for dinner. After a pleasant evening, the “kids” left. As mom and dad were cleaning up, the man said, “What a nice man!” Mom looked at him in exasperation, “Really, you asked him how he was going to support our daughter and he has no job! What is so nice about him?” Still smiling, Dad said, “He is a man of faith. He said that God would provide for him and our daughter. HE THINKS I AM GOD! What a nice man!”


 In our day, way too many people expect to be taken care of. People utter prayers for well being, expecting that somehow, God will uniquely choose that individual to answer his/her prayers. Now, don’t get me wrong; I absolutely believe in the power of prayer. I don’t, however, think that God answers prayers because you pray. Prayer is heartfelt introspection, and prayer is answered when we grow in vision and commitment. There is power around us to help us be more than we ever thought that we could be, but it is not until we pay attention to our ability to use it that it matters. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught that the purpose of prayer is to help us subvert our complacency and move us to spiritual awareness. If we emerge from our time of prayer the same person who entered into it, then we have not prayed. It is impossible to pray and not see ways in which we can do more, be more, and live more intentionally.


Every day, we walk sightless amongst folks who do heroic things. Some of these acts changed lives, some saved lives, some saved life’s dignity, some simply made someone else’s day a whole lot better. Every day, we walk sightless past opportunities to join the ranks of these heroes. Absorbed in our own challenges, our own activities, and our own … ; we fail to look past our own experience to see opportunities to change some piece of someone’s world or bring some peace into the world. When we pay attention to what happens around us, we give ourselves the chance to move from being “blind” and “complacent” to being appreciative and engaged. This is the power of prayer, it allows us to see and seize the opportunity to be heroic.


As Lori and I watched the first “Captain America” movie again this week, I transformed from movie enjoyer to rabbi focusing on sermons that jumped off the screen at me. One theme that kept hitting me over and over was this idea that we have the opportunity to change someone’s entire world view just by the way in which we behave. Men languished without hope in the prison created by the parody of Nazi Germany called “Hydra,” until Captain Steve Rogers showed up, freed them and empowered them to take on the entire “Hydran” army. They became heroes. Steve was himself transformed from a short scrawny weakling into a hero who found his path to heroism just by paying attention to news of a friend “Bucky” in need. He had no idea the amount of good he could do in the world, simply because he paid attention.


So, where is God? This week’s Torah portion instructs us that God told Moses, “Make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell amidst them. (Ex. 25:8)”Rabbi Yeshaya Halevi Horowitz (16th Century) wrote that the text does not say that God will dwell within the structure. Rather, God says, “… and I will dwell amongst/amidst/with them.” 1600 years prior, a guy named Philo led the ancient Alexandrian Jewish community and taught that the temple was merely the representation of the Logos … God’s presence in our midst. Where and how? Torah teaches that we are each made of the divine image. This presence is the very power that, if garnered in prayer, transforms us from bystanders to heroic doers. “Pray as if everything depends on God, but work as if everything depends on you.” A great many authors have been credited with authoring this statement, but it is ancient and eastern, and is the foundation of faith. Prayer is the act of focusing on the needs of the world, while the work is the answer to the prayer. They are inseparable and absolutely dependent on us. In accepting the yoke and privilege of service … heroism, we affirm that divinity is, in fact, amongst us. Shabbat shalom.