Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Sign on our Hand - D'var Torah - August 12, 2011

Uk’shartam l’ot al yadecha
Bind them for a sign upon your hand
The words are familiar to us
We know them like “the back of our hand”
Because we recite them
Not only from the Torah as we read this week’s portion
But in every evening and morning service.
In Jewish tradition, the sign on our hand came to be a physical symbol
The T’filin shel yad, with its leather strap wrapped
Around the arm 7 times
And with the strap on the hand forming the letter Shin (for Ashkenazim), the first letter of the word SHADDAI, the name of God that means “almighty.”
One who has finished putting on tefillin recites this passage
From the prophetic book of Hosea:
I will betroth you to Me forever.
I will betroth you to Me with righteousness,
with justice, with kindness, and with compassion.
I will betroth you to Me with faithfulness,
and you shall know God.
These words from Hosea – words of love and commitment
bring us back to the beginning of the paragraph that we know so well
V’ahavta eit adonai elohecha – You shall love the Eternal your God.
It is spoken not in plural, but in singular, because
each of us, through what the Torah calls the work of our hands, can show our love for God.
Some commentators have wondered if
“Bind them for a sign upon your hand”
Meant to create a physical symbol
Or if it was a metaphor
Attempting to point our behaviors towards God and godly paths.
The book of Proverbs, in several places, suggests that we can bind God’s teachings to our neck, our heart, and our fingers,
Meaning that we should keep God’s instruction close to us – or, as we might say
Close at hand.
As One who wears tefillin during prayer sees a visible reminder of God on his or her hand,
we are called upon to remember that there is always an invisible and potent sign on our hands to use them to bring goodness and holiness into our lives and into the world.
With our hands…
We give gifts to others
We bring donations to people in need
We extend our hand to welcome others
We offer a hand in friendship or a touch meant to provide comfort and support
We reach across a divide of disagreement
To restore a sense of unity
We write words the reflect and teach companionship, righteousness and hope
We fix what is broken.
We create meals or delicacies to share with our families, neighbors, friends, our congregation, or with people in need.
We play musical instruments for enjoyment and perhaps as part of worship
We open a book to drink of its wisdom
We turn the pages of prayerbook to join our community as one voice
Or we turn in the siddur to read other words and thoughts on our own to renew our spirit.
These sentiments about how the work of our hands can enrich our lives are echoed in the following passage from a once-popular work…
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit.
What is bound as a sign on our hand is not only what we do but also who we are
We are a part of creation
And some would say that the OT – the sign – that is bound on our hand is the stamp of the divine upon and inside each of us.
Some would claim, even further, that we are God’s hands – that God acts through us in the world – and that when we acknowledge that a sign of God is upon our hands,
We will remember to act with a greater sense of
And justice.
And so - may these words, these teachings, and the best of the value of our heritage
be bound as a sign upon our hand so that our work,
every day,
will be touched by God.
So may it be – let us say amen.

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