Friday, September 14, 2012

Nitzavim - Kehillah Kedosha

            There are often jokes made among young adult Reform Jews that though we spend the bulk of our childhoods in “Hebrew School” we don’t actually learn much Hebrew. True to this, when I was at Kutz Camp at the age of 16 I was hearing Hebrew outside prayer for the first time ever. One evening I walked into the main meeting hall on camp singing the words to a Danny Nichols song, Hebrew words I did not really know the meaning of. A haughty son of a prominent Reform Jewish leader, having just returned from a semester in Israel and feeling very confident in his Hebrew, said to me, “You know how stupid that song is? ‘If you are you, then we’re standing’. That is what you’re saying. The lyrics don’t make any sense!” Reasoning, that the sentence just said in English did not make any sense indeed, and that this boy was clearly much smarter and cooler than me, I made some embarrassed excuse, giggled nervously, slinked away to hide for the rest of the evening.
            Hearing the words now, in light of this week’s Torah portion, it doesn’t sound so stupid. Sure, “If you are you, then we’re standing,” still doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the line of the parasha is, “אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם” (You are all standing this day before the Lord, your G-d.) The lyrics are, “If you are Atem, then we’re nitzavim, we stand here today and remember the dream.” Moses stood before all the people of Israel on the day of his death, declaring them now officially a single nation, and telling them the time has come to commit themselves, and all the generations to come, to the covenant with G-d, as had our father Abraham. Dan Nichols stood before a large group of Reform Jewish teenagers and reminded us that we are all still standing, and must remember the covenant. Moses told the people that even the woodcutters and water drawers, who according to Rashi might actually be non-Jews subjugated to bad jobs, are now a part of this community. A community Dan Nichols calls a “Kehillah Kedosha”. “Each one of us must start to hear.  Each one of us must sing the song. Each one of us must do the work.  Each one of must right the wrong. Each one of us must build the home.  Each one of us must hold the hope. Each one of us, each one of us!”
            Moses reminds us the Word of G-d is not concealed from us:
12. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?"

יב. לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲלֶה לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה:
13. Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?"

יג. וְלֹא מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲבָר לָנוּ אֶל עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה:
14. Rather,[this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.

יד. כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ:
Dan Nichols explains it’s all in “how we help. It’s how we give.  It’s how we pray.  It’s how we heal.  It’s how we live.” May you all remember our covenant with G-d and find your place in our KEHILLA KEDOSHA, KEHILLA KEDOSHAAAAA!


Susan said...

Thank you - I Googled to try to find out more about the meaning of the song I heard Dan Nichols sing at Limmud and this is a beautiful explanation.

Ellen Wahle said...

we just used Kehillah Kedosha as the music to our slide show celebrating our first year as an integrated congregation. celebrating a year of hard work bringing together two congregations and all the hard work our leadership and membership did to get to that place...reading your blog post might just help some folk who don't know hebrew and don't go to torah study realize WHY we picked THAT piece of music.