Torah from around the world #18

by Rabbi Michael Dolgin,

Temple Sinai Congregation

of Toronto

How can we move a people forward?  Our people is known for its wandering.  We are centered in Israel both emotionally and geographically, but we are spread across the face of the earth.  Though a small people, we are divided.  We affirm different Jewish cultures, varied religious philosophies, and divergent social visions.  As a progressive movement, we work toward a world where the Jewish people are united by a common mission, not a singular way to fulfill it.  How can we strengthen our worldwide community and urge the Jewish people forward?

Our tradition declares:   מעשה אבות סימן לבנים – The acts of our ancestors are a sign to us today (Talmud Bavli, Sotah 34a).  In our parsha this week, we learn how our ancestors moved forward during the time in the wilderness.  Our people was geographically unified, but seems to have found pursuing a singular goal as difficult as it is in our far-flung, higher tech, wireless modern wilderness.  Chapter ten of B’midbar describes the creation and use of silver trumpets to signal the people when they should make camp and when they should move forward.  Trumpets may sound like an improvement over


.  They are easier to sound and make a more pure tone that might be heard over a great distance.  Our commentators remind us that progress creates new responsibilities.


are part of our natural, divinely created world.  They have a holiness of their own.  Trumpets are blown for many mundane purposes.  They may only be sounded by the kohanim (Numbers 10:8).  When our methods are those of any people or purpose, our leaders must exemplify the holiness, the


of our mission (Sefer Be’er Mayim Chayim, B’haalotcha Perek 10).  It is not enough to call for tikkun olam and egalitarianism and commitment to Jewish learning.  We must live our values if we wish to bring holiness into our lives and our community.

Acting on our values takes courage.  The parsha reminds us that it is easy to play it safe and remain in one place, physically and spiritually.  The calls of the trumpets are symbols reminding us of the price we must be willing to pay to move forward.  When the people made camp, they sounded


only (Numbers 10:7).  This simple complete sound carries a name whose root meaning implies we are bound or stationary.  Simplicity may seem desirable as modern Jewish life in Israel and the diaspora is complex enough.  Progressives are urged to wait for easier, more secure times to challenge injustice and inequality.  Our history tells us that no such times are likely to occur.  Our future demands of us that we not wait for them.  When we challenge the status quo at the Kotel or at a local community center, we are sounding


.  This sound was blown to signal that the people must move forward.  This call is incomplete and difficult.  Yet, such growing pains are called טרדא דמצוה, a sacred, obligatory burden (Sefer P’ri Tzaddik, B’haalotcha 1).  We are called to act on our principles in quieter times and in more difficult times.  Our love for Judaism and for Israel requires us to work for progress and meaning.  We must choose what kind of sign our actions will be for the generations to come. May our commitments express our values and inspire future leaders!

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