(This D'var Torah was delivered at a service open to the community after small bombs went off at two churches in Las Cruces on Sunday, August 2).
The Torah reading for this week on the Jewish calendar could not be more apropos for our gathering tonight.
The passage I will read from Deuteronomy Chapter 11 is included on the parchment which is placed in the mezuzah, a small container that is affixed to the doorpost of a Jewish home. The mezuzah fulfills the commandment also contained in Deuteronomy Chapter 6, “Write them on the doorposts of your house.”
A quick story. Once upon a time in Manhattan – yes, the BIG apple, a family moved into a condominium in one of New York City’s famed high-rise buildings. They saw this small box attached to the doorway. This particular family was not aware of Jewish custom and practice, so they were puzzled as to what this strange ornament might be. The mother of the household told her husband she would ask. She contacted the building owner, who said, “Oh, that is a mezuzah.” He told her what it was for, and explained further, “It is a choice for someone Jewish moving out of a place where they have lived to leave the mezuzah on the doorpost for the next resident.” The woman replied, “Oh – all right, thank you. It thought it was some sort of security system.”
Well, it IS a security system exactly because of what it says on the parchment inside about the love of God, which can translate in our lives into the love of humanity and all of creation.
You should also know that when the rabbis were deciding how to affix a mezuzah to the doorway, one rabbi said, “It should be straight up and down.” A second rabbi said, “No, no, it should be parallel to the ground, so that its top points straight into the house.” The decision that was finally made was according to neither of those opinions. We are directed to put a mezuzah in the top third of a doorway, on the right side as we enter, placing it at a 45 degree angle. It was an exact mathematical compromise between the two opinions you heard before. So every mezuzah is a reminder not only of the home being a Jewish home, but that compromise and taking a variety of opinions into account is an essential Jewish value.
The passage from Deuteronomy Chapter 11 that we will read in a moment sounds a lot like the paragraph after the Shema that we chanted earlier, “V’ahavta – you shall love the Eternal your God,” which is also included on a mezuzah parchment.
There is one more concept that the Torah conveys here in Deuteronomy Chapter 11, a sort of moral and meteorological calculus and balance. It’s a simple equation, really: If the people followed God’s commandments, they would gain a full range of agricultural benefits because rain would fall in abundance. But if they served other gods and strayed from their heritage, God would stop up the heavens and no rain would fall.
When we pray during a drought, we know that the reason for a lack of rain is not so simply tied to our behavior. Yes, there may be some human habits that actually do affect the availability of water and the possibility for rain to fall.
I believe that the best lesson we can learn from this passage is not about rain falling or not and whether or not we were the cause.
It is about whether or not we show each other love and support and consideration.
We might say, poetically, that we want kindness, goodness, and peace to fall down like rain upon us. The Jewish prayer for peace in a morning service asks God to grant us peace, goodness, blessing, grace, and compassion.
That is a tall order for God if we aren’t doing that for one another.
We, as God’s partners, have a major responsibility to grant peace, goodness, blessing, grace and compassion to each other. If we don’t, it feels like we are in the midst of a drought, but not one that is at all related to rainfall.
This drought is one in which we feel disconnected, alone, lonely, unsupported, uncertain, and unsafe.
Events like those of last Sunday at Holy Cross Catholic Church and Calvary Baptist Church have a way of not-so-gently reminding us about the rains of love and mutual support that are ours to shower down on one another so that we feel protected, connected, warm and loved.
And I know that many of us have already felt this concern from the murders at the church known as “Mother Emanuel” in Charleston, South Carolina, and other tragic events in our country and in other places around the world.
No matter what our specific beliefs might be, we know that the gifts of our character that we give to our community can make a difference.
So may we rain down on one another and our community the gifts of love, wisdom, understanding, friendship and hope.
And may those gifts create the security system that we need that will echo the Oneness that is intrinsic within the universe – a Oneness which unites us all.
Recognizing that Oneness, and in the spirit of this gathering tonight, we sing: