D’var Torah – Temple Beth-El, Las Cruces, New Mexico - Board Meeting – July 28, 2011
During our Shabbat Morning service last Saturday, a discussion arose about the contrast between two prayers about peace in Mishkan T’filah on page 141. The reading at the bottom, “Grant us peace,” is a reading that has been essential to Reform prayerbooks since the first Union Prayerbook was published in the 1890s. “Grant us peace” is addressed to God, asking that shalom pervade our country, the entire world, and the soul of every human being. The reading at the top of the page by Rabbi Stanley Chyet takes a different approach.
We oughtn’t pray for what we’ve never known
And humanity has never known
Better to pray for pity,
The will to see and touch,
The power to do good and make new.
We recognized in our discussion that, in the familiar words of “Grant us peace,” it was God who was doing much the work, behind the scenes, to support and even manage our quest for peace. In Rabbi Chyet’s reading, there was no mention of God – only what we as human beings can do. Grant us peace stated a series of ideals that we could bring about ourselves, with the help of the divine. “We oughtn’t pray” deals in realities, the fact that we might not be able to reach the perfection and lofty goals of the other prayer, which envisions contentment within our borders, health and happiness in our homes, friendship and fellowship connecting all humanity, and every person living a virtuous life. Rabbi Chyet’s prayer, instead, notes that what is most important for us is not to be complacent. We should readily recognize any inner feeling of pity, indignation, and discontent, and allow those emotional responses to the world to inspire our desire to change the world through “the will to see and touch, the power to do good and make new.”
The question that arose in the face of these two meaningful expressions about peace was this: which prayer is more appropriate for Shabbat? On our day of rest, we certainly can’t ignore what is happening around the world. Yet, in our Jewish bubble of Shabbat Shalom, there are certain approaches to the world that can and should flow out of a day of rest and peace for any Jewish community, whether it is Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, or “Just Jewish.” But first of all, the menuchah or rest of Shabbat as opposed to doing work like any other day has its purpose. Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf once wrote, “The ‘work’ that is prohibited by Jewish law on the Sabbath is not measured in the expenditure of energy. It takes real effort to pray, to study, to walk to synagogue. They are ‘rest’ but not restful. Forbidden ‘work’ is acquisition, aggrandizement, altering the world. On Shabbat we are obliged to be, to reflect, to love and make love, to eat, to enjoy” Rabbi Eric Yoffie, in quoting this passage several years ago, explained that “this is the Shabbat that our Reform Judaism teaches us to strive for and to bring into our lives.” Various Reform statements over the last half-century have noted that we, as a community, can and should find ways to take Shabbat seriously, to honor it in some manner based on our tradition and our own communal or personal interpretation.
In our discussion last Saturday, we agreed that Shabbat is a day to state the ideals for which we should strive, and to note the feelings that may stir inside of us in response the words we pray, including pity, indignation, and discontent. Yet, planning how we will act based on those stirrings in our soul should wait until Shabbat is over. A day of Shabbat Shalom is a time to reflect, to re-energize, and to reconnect with the oneness that unites all creation. That is difficult to do if we are busy with the tasks of life.
A congregation that has a worshipping community on Shabbat evening and morning is one that makes the Sabbath holy, not just by following the command to “remember” the Sabbath, ZAKHOR, but also to observe the Sabbath, SHAMOR. Temple Beth-El is such a community. When Rhonda and I return home from Shabbat morning services, we feel that we have fulfilled both of those standards from our heritage.
So whenever we talked about Shabbat – as individuals, as members of a Reform congregation and a Jewish community which encompasses diverse backgrounds, let us remember that k’dushah, holiness, and shalom, peace should guide us and touch our words and our hearts.