Monday, July 31, 2017

A Feast of Values - Shabbat as a light for our weekly path - Article for Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Adelante Newsletter - August 1, 2017

We are fortunate to live in a country that guarantees freedom to practice our religion. We can take whatever opportunities we choose to learn, to pray, and to be with our community. At the same time, our society has its own rhythms that are reflected by community groups, sporting events, and cultural performances. Consequently, Shabbat can be a time that might make some members of the Jewish community feel somewhat out of step with the mainstream, as many activities and programs do occur on Friday and Saturday. Shabbat, however, can provide us with a time to step back and reflect on the teachings of our tradition and how they can guide our contributions to the betterment of the world around us.

The rituals of Shabbat highlight the value of rest after engaging in the labors of the week. As a congregation, it is our privilege to create a holy space for one another to set daily life aside for a little while, to join our voices together in prayers that are ancient and always new, and to develop insights through words of Torah and by engaging in discussion. The music of our worship is intended to be restful, spirited and nourishing, and our voices joining in melody together can enable us to nourish and nurture a special sense of soul on Shabbat.

There is great meaning in the readings and rituals of Shabbat. Values for living emanate from the meditations and readings in our services and from the symbols before us in the Sanctuary. The light of the Shabbat candles, the Eternal light and the lights of the menorah are an expression of the enduring faith of our community and the persistent presence of God's Oneness among us.

The Psalms that welcome Shabbat declare not only the majesty of the divine, but also the essential role of justice in the world and the need for people to be "upright in heart," because that approach brings more light to the world. 

Jewish liturgy leads worshippers on a journey from honoring creation and daily re-creation happening around us to feeling the love of the divine when we study on our own and with each other. We express the ways in which we can return that love and we recall past moments of redemption so that God can redeem the world through our righteous and just actions.

The central section of the service, The Prayer (T'filah), offers praise to God for being with us through- out our history. We are directed to perform acts in the world as a reflection of godly values and divine character: lifting up the fallen, healing those who are ill, freeing the captive, and infusing the world with our own life-giving powers.

We are called upon to seek ways in which we can be holy (like God is holy) and to make Shabbat sacred by regenerating ourselves for our work in the world. We ask for a special spirit to envelop us every day, and we give thanks for all of the gifts we enjoy in our lives. Our prayer for peace has endured for centuries, and we recite it over and over, week after week, hoping that we will be alive at a time when nations and people will discover a way to truly make peace a reality. We pray for a time when the Oneness that we ascribe to God will lead us to find the oneness within humanity that could be our ultimate peaceful destiny. We remember people who have died, whose lives and spirits could move us to act in a way that expresses the best they had to give while they were among us.

Our prayers on Shabbat morning add new themes to the prayers of the evening: giving thanks for our bodies that have the potential to miraculously work each day, and expressing gratitude for the soul inside of us that makes us who were are. We recite blessings in the morning that praise God for giving us sight and insight, for strengthening our steps, for giving us the energy to face the new day, for creating everyone in the divine image, and for providing us with the opportunity to be free.

Communal worship and study prepare us to enhance the life of our community with the wisdom of our heritage, which includes a sense of how human beings should treat one another with respect and accept each other beyond any differences that, according to some, could drive us apart.

On Shabbat evening, we often recite this verse from the book of Psalms: “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart."

We always need more light, within ourselves, among the members of our congregation, and in the greater community. We generate that light by determining what it means to be righteous and upright in our actions towards our fellow human beings.

May our resolve to practice the values we pray continually prepare us and guide us to shine that light on the world and upon each other. 

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