May 11, 2012

Rabbis need to be mentally and spiritually recharged with the expectations we will be able to transmit some of the energy to our chevra or friends.  These past two weeks I attended two powerful and moving conferences.  First was the JOIN for Justice Conference inNew York City.  There I interfaced with other rabbis regarding organizing and how to pick issues we deem important and, most significantly, how to take meaningful stands on them.  The New York Jewish Week covered it in an article I suggest to you:

The real highlight was the Rabbinical Assembly inAtlanta.  Plentiful and invigorating summarize the sessions and learning.  As for the future of “our movement,” the attendees could feel the vibes as we became strengthened and invigorated in four glorious and exhausting days.  The climax was the unforgettable appearance of our Vice President Joe Biden.  He spoke about the unchanging American posture and his own passion forIsraeland the entire Jewish community.  Later in the day we heard from Israeli politician Yair Lapid who spoke with us about his new political party in Israel which stands for social change, most notably accepting all rabbis (specifically Reform and Conservative) as being just as legitimate as the Haredi Jews now virtually in total control of the country.  Here are the a few articles covering these phenomenal presentations:

As I was proofreading this I vacillated on whether or not I needed to say Vice President Joe Biden or simply the Vice President.  Somehow it made me think of the story I recently read about Jimmy Carter.  When he made his decision to run for President, he told his mother, Miz Lillian, who famously replied “of what?”  For whatever it is worth, the Vice President was accessible at the end of his presentation, and I did have a momentary face-to-face audience expressing my gratitude for his long-time pro-Israel stance.

Reflecting on the lingering glow from both conferences, one message remains clear but somewhat imbedded in this week’s parsha.  In Parashat Emor (at chapter 23) we find one of the Torah’s most complete descriptions of our holiday cycle.  It, of course, starts with Shabbat and then proceeds to describe Pesach, the Omer, and Shavuot.  Finally, it turns to the fall festivals we know as Rosh HashanahYom KippurSukkot, and Shimini Atzeret.

Plunked in the middle is a non-sequitur: 23:22. “When harvesting your land, do not complete [harvesting] the corners of the field…”  Why is this mitzvah of poverty relief interpolated in the middle of the festival cycle?  The peshat or plain explanation might be that the festivals all relate to the agricultural cycle.  However, the rabbis bring a beautiful midrash in Midrash Sifra 13:12 that is paraphrased by Rashi: “It teaches that whoever gives leketshikhekha and peah to the poor as is proper is considered to have built the Temple and brought offerings in it.” This drash gives comfort to us knowing that we can have a full festival service to God without the Temple, but it also presents a challenge. Since we are not farmers, how can we be certain that we have given sufficient tzedakah?  How can we be considered to have brought proper offerings?

While we obviously cannot follow the ancient laws precisely, we can fashion a system that is realistic.  While the ideal is that we give a certain percentage of our earnings back to tzedakah, this can be expanded to give back that percentage toward any good cause, which could include the synagogue, a family trip to Israel or the like.  As long as the cause is deemed worthy, we can give of ourselves both monetarily and with our time to make this world a better place.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham