It’s now July— one of the hottest months during the year. And here in Hendersonville, one of the busiest. And here at Agudas Israel, that is also the case. We welcome everyone who calls Agudas home all the time, some of the time, and newly! You’ll read elsewhere in this month’s Chai Lites about all the events happening, so I will not reiterate them here. Instead, I want to showcase our Torah this month. We will read from the Book of Numbers the following parshiyot, Torah portions: Sh’lach lecha, Korach, Chukat, Balak, and Pinchas. These are some of the most interesting sections of this book.
For example, in parshat Sh’lach lecha, [read July 1] the Israelites have been wandering the desert for two years, not great, but not so bad either. They arrive near their destination. A representative of each of the tribes is sent to spy on the land—see if it is safe and habitable for them. All but two, Joshua and Caleb, report how awful the place is. One can debate whether or not they are lying—are they telling what they saw, or how they felt? Either way, the result is that the Israelites are required to wander for another 38 years; long enough for all those who were slaves in Egypt to die. So that the generation who first inhabits Canaan will have always known freedom. How apt that we read this section the same weekend that we celebrate Fourth of July?!
And in parshat Balak, [read July 22] we get the famous talking donkey—thousands of years before the loqua-cious “Donkey” of the Shrek movies. Balaam, a prophet hired by a rich Moabite king (Balak), is supposed to curse the Israelites. But instead, when he opens his mouth, he praises and blesses them. Balak and Balaam have a continual negotiation, all the meanwhile, the donkey is the one aware of divinity in their presence. How many times do we go out with a particular purpose, with blinders on, only to be caught off-guard by a more in-tune being?
In parshat Korach, [read July 8] there are stirrings of a rebellion. Korach, a leading member of one of the powerful Levite families, questions the authority of Moses. In his heart, he questions Moses’ leadership because he wants it for himself. And while his intentions are less than savory, his question is poignant: “For all of the community is holy, all of them, and the Eternal is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Eternal's congregation?” [Num 16:3] Korach dares point out that we are all equal and holy—and what a phenomenal concept! This is not like in Animal Farm where “All animals are equal, some more equal than others,” but rather true equality in access to holiness. Over the years, our tradition has struggled through midrash and commentary to understand this statement (and the ensuing punishment of Korach and his follow-ers). While we are all equal in our access to holiness, we are not all equal in our abilities. Each of us is granted certain gifts, and it is up to us to share the gifts we have, not enviously long for the gifts of others.
So while the Book of Leviticus discussed the role of the Levites (the priests) and sacrifices in great detail, the Book of Numbers looks at everyone else. This section of the Torah counts each of us, it examples various people with their virtues and their flaws. It shows us how to be a community comprised of a myriad of voices and the beauty that represents. As we celebrate our new members, our new board, our volunteers, our mitzvah day, let us remember to celebrate the gifts we all have as individuals that we bring to our community. May this month bring us continued freedom, mindfulness, and holiness.
Rabbi Rachael Jackson
I am writing this as we are preparing for our 4th Mitzvah Day. Mitzvah Day is one of the visible ways in which we, as a congregation, do a small part in tikkun olam, striving to improve the world in which we live.
As a somewhat newcomer to Jewish study, I was interested in the history of this concept. I learned that there is much debate over the meaning of tikkun olam. In the Orthodox community, the words are in-terpreted as the prospect of wiping out all forms of idolatry. The modern movements in Judaism inter-pret the words as a commandment for people to be-have and act constructively and beneficially (Jacobs; The History of Tikkun Olam).
The issues we face in the world are overwhelming. We at Agudas Israel do our small part in creating the kind of world we wish to leave for those who follow us. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, after participat-ing in the Selma, Alabama civil rights march said “I prayed with my feet”. On each Mitzvah Day we have almost 100 people come out and volunteer at a dozen or more projects around the community, praying with their feet. This one day of service helps the commu-nity in wonderful ways. It also builds our own com-munity as we plan and work and pray together.
Thank you to our project chairs, Dr. Judith Berson-Levinson and Linda Reihs, to all the project captains, and each and every
Dr. Linda Perkel, President
Read the our Newsletter "Chai Lites" for June by clicking Chai Lites July 2016