Friday, September 11, 2015

Parashat Nitzavim, "God, the Devil and Bob," and Finding a community that teaches you to speak your own truth

         This is my first Shabbat back at Temple Beth Emeth, where I am returning for a fourth, non-consecutive year as the rabbinic intern. This Shabbat is also the first day back at Hebrew school for the kiddos. 

            I can’t read Parashat Nitzavim without thinking of a scene from a short-lived cartoon that was briefly on air when I was in middle school. It was called God, the Devil, and Bob, and its plot was that a Jerry Garcia-looking God ponders that perhaps humanity has lost its way and it’s time to start over again. He decides to give the world one more chance by giving one man the opportunity to speak to his friends and neighbors and change the course of their lives. And of course, God allows the Devil to choose the man. He chooses Bob Allman, a regular Joe Schmoe with no religious affiliations or humanitarian ambitions (get it? All-man? Because he’s the everyman?). In one of my favorite scenes in the 13-episode series, Bob asks God what it is he’s supposed to do, what would make God happy. God exclaims, “This is not new stuff! It’s written in scrolls, books, stone tablets! What do you want me to do, scribble it on a bar napkin?!” It is such an echo of Moses’s word in this week’s Torah portion: “This is not hidden from you, nor is it far off. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea… The word is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.”
            And yet, sometimes even the things in our hearts and minds, the things we seem to instinctively know, still need to be teased out of us. They need to be awoken, refined, or articulated in ways that we can’t do alone. That’s why we have community to help us. Why we have religious school and services to teach us. Why we need teachers and rabbis and families to lead us. To form the right words to the thoughts we knew were already buried inside. We don’t need God to scribble out exact instructions on a napkin, we do need to have some guidance, and it’s important to find a community that really does guide you to live out your own truth.

            It is such a pleasure for me to be back in a community that I think does that for me. It’s so nice to be back in a place where I think I can be a part of that support for the young students we are welcoming back today for first day of Religious school. I am thrilled to be standing among you again today, just as the whole community of Israel stood together in our parasha this week. As we begin a new year together, may it be one of standing together in a holy community, learning and growing together, finding holiness right here among us. Amen and Shabbat Shalom. 

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