Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Temple Emanuel, Denver, CO
Several years ago, in Albuquerque, I officiated at the funeral of a dear friend who died suddenly after being diagnosed with a very aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. She was a pillar of the community and a past-president of our congregation. At her service, I read an essay she had written about her relationship to the congregation. In her essay, she recalled a time when she was travelling to Israel and she had the following dialogue with an El-Al security officer: “Are you Jewish? “he asked? “Yes,” she replied. “Where do you belong?” he then asked her….
That question, “where do you belong?” is the key to understanding the importance of our communal selves.
Jewish tradition embodies communal life. We cannot pray unless we have a minyan – a community. The call to unity in community is reflected in many Rabbinic teachings such as:
· Kol Yisrael aravim zeh ba zeh – all Israel is responsible for one another
· Al tifrosh min ha-tzibbur – do not separate yourself from the community
And yet, we also are aware that if we focus only on our particularistic concerns, we fail to connect with the holiness that is implanted within all of humanity.
As Rabbi Hillel taught:
Im ein ani li. Mi l?, U’k’she-ani l’atzmi, mah ani? V’im lo achshav, ey-matai?
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
We need to balance our legitimate concerns for our own people with those of the world around us.
When we strengthen our communities, we strengthen our world and, I truly believe that we become more acutely aware of God’s presence.
During this, the 2nd week of Elul, I want us to focus on our relationship to the various communities in which we live. We need to ask ourselves the question: “Where do I belong?”
The following questions will help you to focus your Elul preparations on how you can make a difference for good in your congregation, community and, indeed, the world itself. Again, this is by no means a complete list. There are many other areas that can be explored. Hopefully, this will provide you with a starting place for a much longer process.
- Have I been generous enough in my support - financially or otherwise - of the institutions and charities that I find important?
- Have I done all that I could to help those impacted by recent tragedies and natural disasters – here in the US and around the world?
- Have I worked to strengthen my congregation? Have I given of my skills and expertise when asked?
- How often have I been content to complain when I was affected by a problem – but after complaining, not done anything to help solve the problem?
- Have I allowed petty squabbles and disagreements to distract me from the importance of staying involved in my community?
- When I am at synagogue, have I done all that I can to make others feel welcomed in the same way that I want to feel welcome
- Have I spoken out when I perceived discrimination or inequity based on economics, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation in our community?
May this time of Cheshbon Hanefesh be fruitful for all of us as we prepare to enter into the holiest days of the year.
Rabbi Joseph R. Black