Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Building holiness among us - Article for Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Newsletter - November, 2012

Some of our congregants who attended the Candidates Forum on October 21 remarked that our guests, who are running for local judicial positions and for district attorney, seemed so relaxed when they were at Temple Beth-El.  They shared information about themselves and their views with ease in a spirit of civil discourse.  That is due, in part, to the leadership of congregants who chaired the program in developing and posing the questions.  I believe that there is also something about being in a MAKOM KADOSH, a holy space, that has the potential to bring out the best in people. Perhaps the room itself, the stained glass windows, the image of the burning bush on the ark doors, and the words “SERVE GOD WITH GLADNESS” attached to a beautiful wooden frame above the ark all combine to remind us of the timelessness of our heritage.  The belief that our faith and tradition transcend time should guide us to see our participation in worship as part of a “timeless” enterprise.  The words of the prayerbook are there for a reason: they are the script for prayer leader and congregation in a drama that has lasted for over 3000 years.  Judaism comes alive when we are active participants in prayer, whether from our seats or on/near the bimah.    Through our combined voices in readings and song, we become a KAHAL KADOSH, a holy congregation, and an AM KADOSH, a holy people. 

    One of the congregants who brought her grandchildren to the Simchat Torah service (see above) on October 7 said that Simchat Torah was her favorite holiday while she was growing up.  You can see in the photo with the open Torah scroll on this page (we were looking at the book of Genesis) how awesome it is to have the scroll open to show many columns at once.  It gave us an opportunity to highlight the location in the scroll of the stories from creation through Jacob wrestling with the angel in Genesis Chapter 32.   It was a reflection of the richness of our sacred text that we continue, in the words of Rabbi Ben Bag Bag, to “turn, turn and turn again.”   In marching/dancing with the scrolls, singing, and reflecting on the ending and beginning of the Torah, we were a KAHAL KADOSH, part of an AM KADOSH, sustaining a time-honored tradition of seeing the Torah as a source of wisdom and guidance for our lives.
    On October 18, I spoke about Judaism to a group at Morning Star United Methodist Church that was looking at different faiths in relation to Christianity.  They had good questions and comments and were gratified that I had come to enlighten them on what we believe and practice.  

On Sunday, October 21, the Confirmation class of First Presbyterian Church in Las Cruces  came to Temple at the time that our Machon class meets on Sunday morning. Our Temple students helped me to explain about Jewish symbols and, I have to add, they chanted the beginning of the V’ahavta with great skill and on the spur of the moment!  I had asked our students for questions to pose to our visitors about what is special about the Presbyterian Church in relation to other denominations and what they believe about Jesus (including how they view his Jewish roots).  To end our session, I opened up the Torah scroll from which we read every week (see photo above) so our guests could see that this text (and its teachings) is special—HOLY—for us, so much so that a Torah reader must practice extensively in advance to recite or chant a passage with no vowels or punctuation.  
     So how are we a KAHAL KADOSH, part of a worldwide AM KADOSH, in our daily lives?  When we treat other people with respect wherever we are, we are a KAHAL KADOSH.  When we help people in need through donations of any kind, we are a KAHAL KADOSH.  When we volunteer with an organization that works to make our community—or the world—better, we are KAHAL KADOSH.   When we, as men and women (and boys and girls), join as a community to unite our voices in prayer, in a congregation where either women or men are welcome to lead worship, we are a KAHAL KADOSH. When we engage in discussions about the future of our congregation or our nation based on the principle of civility, we are KAHAL KADOSH.  And, when we see the face of God in each other, we, most definitely, are a KAHAL KADOSH.   May we continue to come together as a Holy Congregation that  sees the timeless wisdom and value of our heritage as integral to our lives and to the betterment of the human family. 

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