“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” –Abraham Lincoln

 One of my first realizations that my new position as rabbi of the newly merged Temples,  Beth El and Israel was not going to be a cake walk came that very first Shabbat. Amidst the Torah service, a congregant who was visibly upset pulled me aside. A thousand scenarios of why they were upset with me rushed through my head – “what had I done this time?” I kept thinking.

“Rabbi,” he said with indignation, “last week Temple Beth El only received three of the seven aliyot and this week we only received one!”

It was then and there I realized – although the two temples had merged buildings, they were far from united and, I wondered if they ever actually would become one.

In this week’s Torah portion the Israelites are reminded by Moses what my Temple Israelites (and Beth El-ites) needed to be reminded of that particular Shabbat and many more Shabbatot after that.

You are all standing this day, ALL OF YOU, before the Lord, your God…(Deut.29:9)

In this moment Moses drills down to the very essence of what Judaism is all about:

  • First, we are a religion (not a culture, not an ethnicity, not a political voting bloc).
  • Second, we are a communal religion bound by a covenant, indeed the only religion in the history of humanity, to enter into covenant collectively, as a community.
  • Third, we are a family, indeed the only religion ever founded by a husband and wife partnership (every other religion I know of was founded by solo-bachelor-mystics). Indeed, we were a family before we were religion. (We don’t formally become a religion until Exodus).

Looking back on those early years of CSH I think the process shouldn’t have been called merging, rather, it should have been called purging. After all, it was a purging of “aliyot counting;” a purging of “us vs. them” thinking; a purging of an all too often destructive sentiment in the Jewish world. This false notion permeates our Jewish institutions, our synagogues, our communities and most of all it all too often permeates our hearts.

 As we get ready for the High Holy Days let us take these words to heart.

  • “This Day” – let us purge ourselves of our false divisions,
  • “This Day” – let us purge ourselves of our mistrust for one another,
  • “This Day” – let us purge ourselves of petty competition,
  • “This Day” – let us purge ourselves of the delusion that our institutions stand alone,
  • “This Day” – let us purge ourselves of our limiting beliefs that we are anything but

Am Yisrael – the People Israel

B’nai Yisrael – The Children of Israel

Kenesset Yisrael – The Community of Israel

Chaverim Kol Yisrael – Jewish brothers and sisters

You are all standing this day, ALL OF YOU, before the Lord, your God….

Let this be the day,

Let this be the year,

Let this be the time that we stand together.

 Shana Tova, 

Rabbi B

Rabbi Baruch HaLevi (aka Rabbi B) is the rabbi of Congregation Shirat Hayam and co-author of Revolution of Jewish Spirit: How to Revive Ruakh in Your Spiritual Life, Transform Your Synagogue & Inspire Your Jewish Community.

He can be reached at www.RabbiB.com

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