Sarah Tuttle-Singer – Friday, January 25, 2019
From the Rabbi David Lyon
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
January 5, 2018
“It is not your obligation to complete all the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (Mishnah Pirkei Avot 2.15-16).
The New Year 2018 has begun. What now? Looking around the nation and the world, it would appear that there is much to do. Notwithstanding our respective political leanings and economic outlooks, as Jewish men and women we have obligations to do, together. From where do our Jewish obligations begin?
We begin in the Book of Numbers (11:26ff) where Moses was warned that two men, Eldad and Medad, “prophesied in the camp” and not in the Tent of Meeting. A youth ran up to Moses and said, “Eldad and Medad are acting the prophet in the camp!” But, Moses said to him, “Are you wrought up on my account? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!”
Later, the prophet Amos, though uniquely called by God, was a reluctant prophet as all Hebrew prophets were known to be. It wasn’t his profession nor did he have any training. He acknowledged as much when he replied to Amaziah, the priest of Bethel who aimed to expel Amos, “I am not a prophet and I am not the son of a prophet. I am a cattle breeder and a tender of sycamore figs…but the Lord said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel’” (Amos 7:10-17).
Eldad and Medad were compelled and inspired. Amos was called and obeyed. The age of prophesy ended with Malachi circa 425 BCE, but we remain duty-bound to the prophetic lessons. They are integral to Reform Judaism and are reflected in our emphasis on social and ethical ideals.
Famously, Amos (okay, Famous Amos) bound the Israelite people to the prophetic call in these words:
“Can two walk together
Without having met?
Does a lion roar in the forest
When he has no prey?
Does a great beast let out a cry from its den
Without having made a capture?
Does a bird drop on the ground—in a trap—
With no snare there?
Does a trap spring up from the ground
Unless it has caught something?
When a ram’s horn is sounded in a town,
Do the people not take alarm?
Can misfortune come to a town
If the LORD has not caused it?
Indeed, my Lord GOD does nothing
Without having revealed His (sic) purpose
To His servants the prophets.
A lion has roared, Who can but fear?
My Lord GOD has spoken, Who can but prophesy?
Though we’re not prophets as Amos was called to be, we are, like Eldad and Medad, descendants of those who are bound by God’s covenant, or who chose to bind themselves to God’s covenant, and accept the obligation to address the world through Jewish social and ethical ideals. This year, you and I have already observed an abundance of reactions and commitments to social and ethical ideals that contrast sharply to political and economic plans for our nation and the world. California is taking huge steps to distance itself from Washington policy; the #metoo movement is gaining momentum to overturn decades-long abuse and harassment against women; and, gay rights are being confirmed in every state. In part, they serve as a counter-balance to current turns to the political right. And, there’s more.
Our Judaism calls on us not to swing far right or far left, but rather to find a position where foundational (not fundamental) Jewish values about health, welfare, women, children, and immigrants, etc., reflect our sacred duties to God’s acts of creation — not some, but all. This year, I urge you to choose your path to social and ethical justice for all. At Congregation Beth Israel, ABIDE (Advocacy at Beth Israel through Diversity and Education) is working with community organizations to accomplish our largest social and ethical ideals; and, our Social Justice Committee serves immediate needs to resolve hunger for local children, among other projects. In important ways, we are partners with community non-profits to amplify our efforts and make a larger difference.
“A lion has roared, Who can but fear?
My Lord GOD has spoken, Who can but prophesy?”
Our year has begun. Our work awaits us. Rabbi Tarfon taught, “The day is short and the task is great…the Master of the House (God) is urgent.” He also taught, “It is not your obligation to complete all the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (Mishnah Pirkei Avot 2.15-16).