By Rabbi Steve Burnstein, Director,
Anita Saltz International Education Center
In April, 1983, I visited Israel for the first time as a participant on the High School in Israel program (before it became the Alexander Muss High School in Israel). It was an amazing, transformational experience that impacted the course of my life in many ways.
Coming to Israel as a teenager was, at the same time, exciting, frightening and liberating. Exciting because of all I had heard about Israel from friends and family. Frightening because I was coming to a strange place, far from the comfort and security of home, on a program where I didn’t know anyone.
Liberating in that I was far from home, where no one knew me, and I had the opportunity to reinvent myself. The line between frightening and liberating was based on perspective – on how I chose to
This weeks Torah portion,
, opens with the command to each of us, individually, to
the options in front of us. Based on our perspective, each of us has a unique perception and view. This perception becomes our reality – our vision of a particular moment in time and space. This vision guides our actions.
, the Children of Israel are commanded to see the potential for blessing and curse as they enter the Land of Israel. Entering the Land comes with new, increased responsibilities and choices. The text warns us that this transition to a new life in a new place comes with challenges and obstacles. But the text reminds us that, while each individual must look ahead individually, we are part of the Jewish People. We face these challenges individually and collectively. And our choices impact each other.
Collective and individual transitions are all around me this week. I had the opportunity to celebrate the
of my cousin, Mollie, who arrived with 350 other new immigrants to Israel and is one of 127 about to become soldiers in the IDF. Mollie is embarking on an amazing journey that comes with many personal choices and challenges. While she must see the options and make the choices for herself, she has the support of her family and friends, her army unit, the State of Israel and the Jewish People. Just as in our Torah portion, the individual and collective are intertwined and impact one another.
Next week is the end of summer break in Israel and families all over are busy with preparations. The stores are packed with shoppers looking for just the right backpack, notebooks and other school supplies. Having the right backpack is sometimes perceived as essential to fitting in socially in school. The opening of the school year is filled with excitement and anxiety about making new friends and reconnecting with old ones in addition to concerns about academic challenges. Decisions about backpacks and other supplies are perceived as choices that will set the tone for the rest of the year.
The opening of the school year coincides with the approach of the High Holidays. We reflect on 5772. In retrospect, which of our decisions were blessings? Which were curses? What have we learned that will help us as we look ahead to the future? How can we make amends for mistakes of the past year and make a fresh start in 5773?
Re’eh tells us: “
, individually, toward the future. Be mindful of the challenges and opportunities in front of us – the blessings and the curses.
to the voice of our Tradition and also to the voices of trusted family and friends, as they are powerful guides along the journey.” May we all choose wisely. May we all choose blessings for ourselves, our families, our people and all peoples.