Ambassador Ron Dermer – Monday, October 22, 2018
From the Rabbi David Lyon
If you’re moving the pins on your map, then you’ll find me now in Colorado. Today, I’m surrounded by books and my laptop. In the early afternoon, I sat outside to read. The breeze and wind were magnificent. The bugs, however, were unusual with odd wings and multiple legs. That’s why it’s good for me to get away; I get out of my comfort-zone where I can feel nature all around me. Then after enough of it, I go inside again. The view from the window is spectacular and just as inspiring, but with less swatting and fidgeting.
Though vacation and sabbatical are times away for special purposes and personal growth, they don’t permit me or anyone else a complete absence from the world around us. The internet and social media bring the world to all the places we retreat. Perhaps the difference I’m really seeking is a retreat from the noise of it all. In this mountain retreat, there’s no cable TV and sporadic internet on the hiking trails. The irregular access means that I have to choose with greater discretion what to use my internet access to read and know.
In my time to reflect, I’ve thought about the many questions I was asked this past year. Some were challenging as we considered your personal and family matters, together. Some of them were easier because we were planning for a happy occasion, a simcha, like a bar/bat mitzvah, a wedding or a baby-naming. But, the profoundest question I was asked more than once was what does “my Judaism” demand of me? It’s not a new question. In every age and generation, this question has been asked and answered.
In Micah 6:8, we are taught, “God has told you what is good, and what the Eternal requires of you: only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God.” Micah, like all the Hebrew prophets, admonished us to believe that God, Who is beyond our praises, demands of us our greatest commitment to ethical duties to each other.
In Mishnah Pirkei Avot, we are similarly taught, “Do not separate yourself from the community.” Jews don’t thrive in isolation. There are no Jewish monks. Jews live and survive in the company of other like-minded Jews. Furthermore, we’re taught that we can’t make our homes in a place where there are no synagogues or doctors. We need both of them.
We’ve also been taught by mindful Jews in modern times that though we, in our generation, have enjoyed the privilege to live freer than any Jews before, our obligations to keep faith with God, Torah, and Israel, and to serve the Jewish people has never been greater. The persons who asked me, “What does my Judaism demand of me?” were spot-on. At Beth Israel, our advocacy for Israel and social justice causes are all expressions of the ancient prophetic voice. Reform Judaism is especially attuned to it. Notwithstanding our obligation to worship, it is in the realm of service to the needs highlighted by the prophets — hunger, poverty, widow and orphan, the stranger — that compels us to get it right.
The synagogue makes Jews. The synagogue cultivates reasons for believing and dispatches young and old, alike, to carry Jewish messages into all that we do for each other every day. From our youngest children to our oldest adults, we reach them with serious Jewish education, meaningful Jewish worship, and profoundly effective and affective ways to serve the larger community’s needs. It begins with understanding why, and then participating in how it can be done. But, if the need is exceptionally urgent, then the “how” must precede the “why,” just as our rabbis taught us: the understanding comes through the doing.
As summer heat continues, please retreat from the noise around you, too. Reflect on what the year has been and what the New Year, coming soon, will be for you and us, together. From the mountains and the trails, Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi David A. Lyon is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, TX. Rabbi Lyon serves on the Board of Trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and chairs its professional development committee. He can be heard on “iHeart-Radio” KODA 99.1 FM, every Sunday at 6:45 a.m. CT, and is the author of God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime (Jewish Lights 2011) available on Amazon.com.