Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
In Torah this week, Re’eh (see) is the first word of the portion. “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse…” Our Sages teach that the word is written here in the singular form. In subsequent uses, the word is written in the plural form. The reason is that while the “commandments are set before the whole people (plural form), each individual must ‘see’ (singular form) and decide whether to obey or disobey.”
Long before Reform Judaism was organized, our Sages recognized a reform idea. Indeed, we are commanded as a people with the same set of texts and teachings. We are inheritors of the same Torah. But, we also respond to God and God’s teachings as individuals. Reform Judaism is predicated on individual educated choices. Nowhere does Reform Judaism liberate Jews from Jewish obligations. On the contrary, Reform Jews are duty-bound to make Jewish choices every day. What kinds of choices do Reform Jews make every day?
Jewish choices should never lead to an answer as simple as “yes” or “no”. For example, “Do you observe Shabbat?” “Do you keep kosher?” “Do you give tzedakah?” Even if the answer is yes, it demands some qualification. It the answer is no, it requires more attention. Jewish choices should lead to full answers, and a Reform Jewish answer should include a reason thoughtfully formed. For example, “How do you observe Shabbat?” “How do you keep kosher?” “How do you give tzedakah?” These are questions that we are all obligated to answer, and which we have the liberty to answer as individuals.
For Reform Jews, Shabbat is an essential part of our week. Rest from work and anxieties can refresh the heart and mind. Working on Saturday might be necessary to support one’s household and generations of Jews have done so, but not without also setting aside time for family. Keeping kosher was rejected by very early reformers in order not to set themselves apart from full participation in society; but, today, many Reform Jews keep kosher by making ethical food choices. Many choose not to eat veal or prefer free-range chickens. Obesity is at crisis levels in America. A Reform Jewish food ethic includes eating to live, not living to eat. (“The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic,” CCARPress, http://tinyurl.com/nldxjkh). Tzedakah is always a personal choice and it’s part of every person’s obligation to participate in repairing the world.
Seeing God’s blessings is something we are all obligated to do. Some do it more easily than others. But, all of us are uniquely created to contribute to the world of God’s blessings uniquely. Personally, I have never been a total conformer or a total individualist. I have never been comfortable on either extreme. Rather, I cherish my individuality and the privilege to choose how I will participate in the world around me.
How will you observe Shabbat this week? How will you make an ethical food choice? And, how will you build a better world? Here’s a suggestion: at your Shabbat dinner table this week, talk about how you might answer these and other questions individually and as a family. Where is there room for individuality and where is it important to conform? You’re more than welcome to reply to me and share the outcomes of your discussions at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s my job to ask; it’s all of our jobs to answer.