Thursday, May 11, 2017

Moments, Offerings and a Song - D'var Torah for Parashat Emor - May 12, 2017

        During this time between Passover and Shavuot, we are engaged in counting the days between the holidays, based on the ritual described in the Torah reading for this week.  The Israelites were commanded to bring a sheaf of grain every day from the second day of Passover to the 50th day, which is Shavuot, the feast of weeks,  marking the barley harvest in ancient Israel.   In Jewish practice today, this time period symbolically represents the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to their first destination, Mount Sinai. 
     The passage in the Torah I will read in Leviticus Chapter 23 first speaks of the “fixed times” of God, the days on which there would be something asked of the people in terms of a ritual to perform and an offering to give.   
   In our lives, we have many fixed times.  We have fixed times when we have to be “on.” We may be engaged in work, volunteer service, making presentations, keeping commitments with friends or family or community members or attending set appointments. 
     We also have time “off” for leisure, entertainment, reading, listening, learning and for using our talents and abilities to create something new or pursue a personal hobby or interest.  We often have the opportunity to make those moments of personal time worthwhile and enduring, and perhaps, to do the same with the times that others set for us.   
      After the initial statement in Leviticus Chapter 23 comes a description of Shabbat, the human day of rest because God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. Shabbat is also a day, according to the Ten Commandments in the book of Deuteronomy, when we remember the Israelites moving from slavery to freedom, a reminder that no one could again force them to do labor against their will.
     Still, today, Shabbat is intended to teach us about “time out,” taking ourselves out of our routines to make one day a week special. 
      Every year, the Jewish organization “Reboot” sponsors a “National Day of Unplugging.”   Listen to the “National Day of Unplugging” official rationale, which sounds like a new version of the Torah’s declarations about Shabbat:
“Do you have multiple cell phones? Take your iPad to the beach on vacation? Ever find it hard to get through a conversation without posting an update to Facebook? Is your computer always on? We increasingly miss out on the important moments of our lives as we pass the hours with our noses buried in our phones, chronicling our every move through social media and shielding ourselves from the outside world with the bubble of “silence” that our earphones create. If you recognize that in yourself – or your friends, families or colleagues— join us for the National Day of Unplugging, start living a different life: connect with the people in your street, neighborhood and city, have an uninterrupted meal or read a book to your child. The National Day of Unplugging is a 24-hour period – running from sundown to sundown – and starts on the first Friday in March. The project is an outgrowth of the Sabbath Manifesto, an adaptation of our ancestors' ritual, [giving us the chance today to] carve out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and connect with loved ones.”
    We can be grateful to the “Reboot” organization to remind us of what Shabbat can mean – it is certainly about giving up, but it is also about receiving a special gift in return – time for ourselves and our loved ones – a gift that comes from God, the Torah and our tradition.
     The Leviticus 23 passage then moves to the first holiday in the spring: Passover, which we just observed several weeks ago.        These verses clarify the extent of the time for celebrating Passover and note certain observances of the festival. What the text doesn’t do is tell us how important Passover would become throughout the centuries.  Eventually, Jews developed the Passover Seder ritual for the home, which takes participants through the Exodus experience.   It is reported that the Passover Seder is observed every year by 60-70% of Jews in the United States and 93% of Jews living in Israel. The reason for widespread observance is that Passover can be done in the home if we choose.  It is ours.  And it is significant because of the enduring memories of the people with whom we have celebrated in the past,  specific recipes for Passover food, melodies that we sing every year, and the new rituals and customs we create to make the holiday new.   Shabbat and Passover both provide us with a guide to making a wide range of life experiences memorable, because we know that it is the sensory input and, especially, the feelings of moments we want to remember, that will remain with us. . 
      Making a moment memorable may require that we offer something material, or  an intangible aspect of our personality and character.   
     For our ancestors, the special offerings of grain which they took to the local center for worship at this time of year were a gift to the priests and to God. They made these gifts in the presence of a community.  After they returned home, they could tell stories about their journey to the ancient Temple, tales about people they met along with way, and impressions about what it felt like to humbly present their offerings.  
     This week, I was challenged to think about the concept of giving personally and within a community as I read the liturgical poem by Alden Solovy entitled “Offerings.”  I was very taken by the reading because it focuses on what life presents to us and how we respond.  This piece provides food for thought and discussion because it suggests that everything that life presents to us comes from God, whether positive or what we might see as negative.   We could view God’s offerings, as portrayed in this poem, as similar to the direction a parent gives a child when he or she faces trials or triumphs, joy or sorrow. Even when we encounter a difficult situation, we have the opportunity to recognize God’s presence that can help us through that challenging time. Sometimes, God’s presence may come to us in the  assistance and strength that we receive from friends, family members and even people in the community we barely know.
     For that reason, as I adapted this reading into a song, I added verses from Psalm 27 that ask for God to be merciful and present when we call for support.  The Psalmist imagined the sense of relief and hope we would feel when we receive God’s favor and blessing, with the face of the divine shining down upon us.  Perhaps it also recognized that we could see the spark of God in the faces of those people who stand by our side, to hold us up every day.     
    It is in those moments when we respond to what is offered to us by life and God that we may discover the best part of ourselves and the best of one another.  And so, may we count and recall those moments of revelation, realization and renewal all the days of our lives for good and for blessing.   

 (Here is a link to the song) 

Offerings - Music by Larry Karol
(Liturgical Poem by Alden Solovy - and Psalm 27:7, 8 - added by Larry K.)
When G-d offers love, I offer my heart.
When G-d offers wisdom, I offer my mind.
When G-d offers beauty, I offer my senses.
When G-d offers silence, I offer my patience.

CHORUS:  Sh’ma Adonai Koli Ekra - Choneini Va-aneini
                    Sh’ma Adonai Koli Ekra - Et Panecha Adonai Avakeish
[Hear, O Eternal One, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me, answer me.
O Eternal One, I seek Your face]

When G-d offers challenge, I offer my strength.
When G-d offers trial, I offer my faith.
When G-d offers pain, I offer my dignity.
When G-d offers fear, I offer my courage - CHORUS

When G-d offers grief, I offer my endurance.
When G-d offers shame, I offer my amends.
When G-d offers death, I offer my mourning.
When G-d offers life, I offer my rejoicing.

When G-d offers joy, I offer my thanksgiving.
When G-d offers awe, I offer my wonder.
When G-d offers righteousness, I offer my blessings.
When G-d offers holiness, I offer my praise. CHORUS

When G-d offers love, I offer my heart. 

 Words © 2011 Alden Solovy and All rights reserved.
Used with permission

Leviticus 23:1-16
[1] The Eternal one spoke to Moses, saying: [2] Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the Eternal, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.  [3] On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest, a sacred occasion. You shall do no work; it shall be a Sabbath of the Eternal throughout your settlements. [4] These are the set times of the Eternal, the sacred occasions, which you shall celebrate each at its appointed time: [5] In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a passover offering to the Eternal, [6] and on the fifteenth day of that month the Eternal's Feast of Unleavened Bread. You shall eat unleavened bread for seven days. [7] On the first day you shall celebrate a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. [8] Seven days you shall make offerings by fire to the Eternal. The seventh day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. [9] The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: [10] Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving to you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest. [11] He shall elevate the sheaf before the Eternal for acceptance in your behalf; the priest shall elevate it on the day after the sabbath. [12] On the day that you elevate the sheaf, you shall offer as a burnt offering to the Eternal a lamb of the first year without blemish. [13] The meal offering with it shall be two-tenths of a measure of choice flour with oil mixed in, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Eternal; and the libation with it shall be of wine, a quarter of a hin. [14]Until that very day, until you have brought the offering of your God, you shall eat no bread or parched grain or fresh ears; it is a law for all time throughout the ages in all your settlements.  [15] And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: [16] you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Eternal.         

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