As I read through this portion again this week, I found a section that I have often glossed over.
Deuteronomy Chapter 4, verses 5 and 6 make a statement about the Israelites that I believe still applies to the Jewish community today.
Moses said to the people, “See, I have imparted to you laws and rules, as the Eternal my God has commanded me, for you to abide by in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. Observe them faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of all these laws will say, “Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people.”
Members of every movement of Judaism have the potential to be wise and discerning. When we sit with each other and discuss the meaning of a particular text, we strive to be wise and discerning. When we decide what Jewish practices are meaningful for each of us to follow, we bring to life those words that Moses spoke so long ago.
And when it comes to developing positions on the burning issues of the day, Judaism always has wisdom to impart. We don’t expect American law to codify Jewish teachings. Yet, I have always found that Judaism enriches public discussions about abortion, the death penalty, immigration reform, marriage and divorce, the role of women, and extending a hand to people in need. Judaism doesn’t teach in sound bites, but in thoughtful consideration of the matter at hand, and in reasoned conversation based on the principle that every person is created in the image of God. And whatever we discuss and conclude must necessarily lead us to positive action.
This Shabbat features a Haftarah reading from the book of Isaiah that offers words of comfort following the observance of Tish’ah B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Our wise and discerning heritage has always been able to find a message of consolation even in the face of darkness and tragedy. We gain comfort from healing words of prayer and from the concern of our fellow community members. We feel consoled knowing that faith and hope can lead us to make tomorrow a better day. Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav said, “All the world is a narrow bridge. What is most important is not to be afraid.” It is through mutual support and by walking across that bridge together that we overcome fear and allow our wisdom to guide us to light and goodness,
So may we be wise, discerning and caring within ourselves and towards each other so that the trust we develop will move us forward to whatever promised land we seek.