Friday, August 26, 2016

On our doorposts, our gates and our hearts - Leadership and Respect in a Sacred Community - D'var Torah - Parashat Ekev - August 26, 2016

     I - and probably many of you - have been thinking about what it means to be a leader, especially a good one.  It's hard not to do that during the year of a presidential campaign. 
    I have also been thinking about the value of respect, and how it plays out in our community and society.        
     On August 23, a group of community leaders of which I have been a part held its first public program.   The Interfaith Coalition for Compassion and Peace Village of Las Cruces co-sponsored a discussion entitled, "R-E-S-P-E-C-T - Find out what it means to...US!"   The 40 Participants present split into small groups to discuss questions such as "What are behaviors that you respect?  What are attitudes that you respect?  How do you show respect?  How does respect break down?   I can share the list of response if you are interested, but there was one particular response that came to mind when I looked at a well-known passage in this week's Torah reading.  We asked those present how we show respect in our immediate community (like a workplace, school or congregation). Two responses noted that we need to be aware of our "communal footprint" and to consider the implications of our actions.   That means that, in whatever we do in communal life, we need to be aware of how our words and our deeds impact other people so that we can assure that our influence is positive or, at least, constructive.  
     Deuteronomy Chapter 11 verses 13-21, from this week's Torah reading, is known as the "second paragraph of the Shema," coming after the V'ahavta paragraph, in a traditional prayer book.  Even more, it is the second paragraph on a mezuzah parchment.  The significance of the mezuzah is that it is supposed to mark the home on the outside as a place where dedication to a specific heritage is happening inside the home.  It is also a reminder, as we leave our homes, to take the best lessons we learn at home out into the world, so that our communal footprint leaves the world a little better on any given day because of our deeds and our presence. 
    What the section in Deuteronomy Chapter 11 actually says is that we should follow God's commandments.  If we do, God will grant us the blessing of rain in its season.  If we do not walk in the path in which God has directed us, there will be no rain.  The passage then offers familiar reminders:  bind them as a sign upon your hand, let them be a symbol between your eyes, and write them on the entrance to your home and on your city gate.   Biblical scholars still debate whether these commands are literal or symbolic.  In other words, it could mean the teachings of the Torah and our tradition should shape our vision, the way in which we look at the world with our eyes, and our actions, especially when our hands reach out to others in godly ways.  The mezuzah itself means that there is something unique about our homes and this place, our spiritual and communal home.  
   So how do we practice these principles of our faith as we exercise leadership in this home of ours, Temple Beth-El?   In our Tanakh study group this week, we read in chapter 11 of the book of Isaiah about that prophet's vision of an ideal ruler:  
"The spirit of the Eternal One shall alight upon him:
A spirit of wisdom and insight,
A spirit of counsel and valor,
A spirit of devotion and reverence for the Eternal. He shall sense the truth by his reverence for the Eternal One:  He shall not judge by what his eyes behold,
Nor decide by what his ears perceive.  Thus he shall judge the poor with equity and decide with justice for the lowly of the land."
Wisdom, insight, counsel, fortitude, devotion or knowledge, and reverence for God and for all of life:  these are central Jewish values.   The passage then notes that these qualities enable a person to understand overarching truths, which heighten one's sense of fairness and justice.   In such a context, all members of a community feel valued and included, and have their own chance to fully participate with leaders and peers alike. 
    In a commentary created this week for the Union for Reform Judaism, Lisa Lieberman Barzilai wrote about how congregational leadership requires sacred partnerships.  What does that last phrase mean?  She explained:  "Being in sacred partnership means that we acknowledge our differences, just like the leaders of past generations did. At the same time, it means that we focus on our pledge and responsibility to the shared goals and common good of our congregation....Respect, trust, honesty, communication, transparency, confidentiality, and reflection are the tools we use to build and nurture sacred partnerships.  Without these essential and interconnected components, fissures are likely to develop in the relationship....It's imperative that leaders be able to hear what others say, work to find common ground based on shared goals, and act to bring about an organization's shared vision."  
     So we do need to lead and act in such a way that what we do for and with one another will rain down blessing upon us as a community.   We can develop a common vision and shared goals that will enable us to see one another in the most positive light, and to recognize opportunities for service to which we can apply Jewish values that can enhance our communal footprint individually and as a congregation.   If we keep in mind these teachings of our heritage in our service to Temple and the greater community, we will write the best of our faith upon our doorposts, upon our gates, and upon our hearts.  So may we do - and let us say Amen. 

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