Friday, July 13, 2012

Compassionate Commitment - July 13, 2012

The Israelites, in their journeys, carried with them
the Ten Utterances of God at Mount Sinai,
which were cast in two tablets of stone.
All of the other rules of the community, it seemed,
were engraved in stone as well.
While many of the Israelites held fast to the divine commandments,
there had been rebellions based in lack of faith
or a misplaced sense of personal importance,
that already caused some of their  people
to meet an untimely and unfortunate demise.
There was the lack of trust in a positive report about
the land of Canaan
that called for only a new generation to eventually cross the Jordan River.
At the beginning of this week’s parashah,
Pinchas, son of Eleazar the priest, and grandson of Aaron,
had received a covenant of peace with the Eternal
after executing an Israelite man and a Midianite woman
who had worshipped a foreign god.
Commitment to the covenant seemed to be based in passion,
even zealotry, in this and other cases.
Still, the people likely heard the echoes
of Moses’ past pleadings to God
to be patient with this people that could not always see
the miracle of their survival
the redemption that was theirs
and the future that would enable them
to create a sacred community. 
A calm descended over the people
as Moses and Eleazar fulfilled a command
to take a census of this new generation of Israelites
counting the Israelite men who could take part in battle
and enumerating the clans that would create the Israelite nation
on the land of their ancestors.
It was a time still touched with the stress of life in the wilderness.
At such a moment, it must have taken great courage
for the daughters of Zelophehad - Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah -
to come forward.
They asked Moses that they be able to receive their father’s inheritance
within the clan of their tribe since they had no brothers.
This challenge to the existing law, which dictated
that only sons could inherit their father’s possessions, 
did not intend to put Zelophehad’s daughters
 above all other Israelites or outside the people.
It was a request to allow their family to be
an equal  part of the community.
It was a suggestion based on fairness
that could appropriately preserve
Zelophehad’s legacy for his children.
Moses brought their case before God without hesitation,
perhaps sensing that this was a time
to show compassion and flexibility.
The divine command in response offered a resounding affirmation:
“The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them.”
The word for just in this verse is “Kein” –
the word for “so it is” or even “Yes.”
This biblical tale establishes the possibility
to say “kein” with a sense of compassion and equality
When the answer that would take no deliberation
might be “Lo”- No.
In recent months,
we have seen legislators and judges 
in our own country
Offer answers to critical issues – 
sometimes Yes, sometimes No,
sometimes based on a balanced perspective,
sometimes grounded in a firm and narrow political party line,
and sometimes with no sense that compromise 
could even be attempted, much less achieved.  
In the State of Israel, as we know,
There are times when it might be better
To say KEIN than LO
To engender a spirit of equality and fairness. 
Women, who are not actually prohibited
from wearing a tallit by halachah, Jewish law,
are detained for questioning
when they do wear a tallit during prayer
by the Western Wall. 
Women are forced to sit at the back of the bus
even when rules are posted
That prohibit a driver or a passenger from making such a demand.
In Israel, the legal system has declared that
Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Rabbis
serving communities there
should receive salaries from the government for their work
and also be allowed to serve on local religious councils.
The response from Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar
was to ask his colleagues to pray
in order to stop liberal rabbis,
whom he called  “destroyers and saboteurs
who are trying to uproot the foundation of Judaism.”
Knesset member Moshe Gafni
called non-Orthodox rabbis
“clowns that see Judaism as a joke.”
How far that is from the truth!
We know that we, in our congregation, try to be committed
to being Yisrael, strugglers with God and with our heritage.
Members of Temple Beth-El met on Wednesday night this week
To develop a list of values
central to our congregation and our tradition
which we ultimately share
with the greater New Mexico community.
We listed a variety of core principles:
fairness, education, questioning, tzedakah, equality, wisdom, humility, 
a tribal sense that we are in this together, survival, and interdependence.
The basic premise of our discussion was that
no one of us and no community is an island.
We know from experience
that there are times when devotion and commitment
must be guided by
fairness and compassion
in order for a community to survive.
We do need a measure of passion
for who we are and what we do.
But we also need the wisdom to say “Yes” – “Kein”
to anyone who desires
to enhance and contribute to
the betterment of the community
while sustaining the core of faith and tradition
that we have preserved for so many generations.
When we encounter the spirit
of the daughters of Zelophehad
within our community and our nation,
may we realize that there is a time
to say KEIN, yes,
and that our affirmation will offer all of us
strength and hope.
So may we do – and let us say amen. 

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