27 Av 5773 / August 2-3, 2013
In this week’s portion, Re’eh, Moses continues his long-winded speech to the Israelite nation. In addition to reminders about kosher restrictions, the remission of debts, and the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot), he makes a particular point to focus on the rules and regulations surrounding sacrifices.
He reminds the Israelites that unlike their actions in the desert, where they’ve offered sacrifices to God all along their journey, upon entering the Promised Land, they cannot simply offer sacrifices wherever they please. Rather, they are required to offer up sacrifices “in the place that God will choose in one of your tribal territories.” Ultimately, as we know, that meant the Temple in Jerusalem.
It seems a bit intense to think that in order to connect with the Divine, our ancestors were required to trek all the way to Jerusalem. (Admittedly, many contemporary Jews still flock to Jerusalem - and specifically the old city and Wailing Wall area - as a spiritual and holy site)
For our ancestors, based on the guidelines, worship inherently meant a communal activity in a public setting. There effectively were no options for worshipping at home. For millennia, our institutions (first the Temples, now synagogues) reflected that reality – after all, there are certain traditional prayers only said in the presence of a quorum.
And yet, nowadays, many of us don’t prioritize communal worship (partially because we feel awkward about the concept of worship in general). We often think that we’re able to connect with the Divine, worship and exist on our own. We pride ourselves on being independent (some would argue bordering on selfish / hyper-individualistic). Individual connections are important and valuable. However, I would argue that being part of a larger community is an essential component to living a complete Jewish life.
We find in this portion the following instruction: “don’t harden your heart or shut your hand against your kinsman.” We’re meant to be open and generous with those in our community – and being part of a community is a necessary prerequisite for fulfilling that obligation.
This Shabbat, reflect on the various communities (Jewish and otherwise) that you’re a part of (or wish you were a part of). What about the communities makes them attractive / alluring? What value does being part of a community add to your life? If you were to build a community from scratch, what would the building blocks be?
By directing our attention to the beauty and meaning that can be harnessed by sharing our lives with others, we can begin to form the connections necessary to truly be witnesses to the awe and inspiration of the world around us.