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 (Rabbi Micah in 2016  at a Leket Yisrael growing field collecting “pe’ah”)

Shalom friends-

The Torah portion this week is “Ki Tetzey” from Deuteronomy 21:10- 25: 18. It contains a variety of laws-- 72 mitzvot or “positive actions.” They are a diverse set of teaching that include ethical, moral, family, civil, and ritual behaviors, including the responsibilities to the “stranger” or “resident alien.” The challenge is to look at the general teachings, not necessarily the details of each behavior. The big picture, as it were, is about creating the guidelines and systems of a sustainable society.

Looking at the first words of the weeks portion, the Hebrew can be translated as, “When you wage war...” We begin with the recognition that in life there are times of struggle. In times like these, it is imperative that our ethics and morals are first and foremost in our hearts and guiding our actions. It can be the easiest place to disregard them. In the modern wars and military actions, we know how offended we are when the rules of fair engagement or “just warfare” are not followed. In many ways, the Torah demonstrates to us the ideal responsibilities that come with action.

Interestingly the biblical text goes on the explain the challenges around success, “...when you win…” now the REAL responsibility sets in. From this perspective, the challenge is to ask what happens to us-- any of us-- after a battle of some sort  is finished-- and YOU are the winner-- what is your responsibility? There is a powerful message with the text beginning with victory and responsibility after that point. Our text challenges us in the most direct terms to consider the responsibility, not the thrill of victory nor your rites in victory-- your responsibility.

Towards the end of  the portion, this metaphor extends from military to economic battles. In society, one could see economic successes as victory in a “battle of means.” When one is a winner in that, according to our Torah, one is also responsible. The direct responsibility/mitzvah of financial success is to assist those whose journeys have been fraught with different challenges. A reminder of the mitzvah of communal support for people on the fringes of society, categorized in the grouping “widow, orphan, and stranger (resident alien).” Presented in the context of the laws of gleaning called in Hebrew “Pe’ah,” it is a reminder that we all were once strangers, orphans, and widows, too. Landowners are to leave the corners and leftover vegetable and fruits from vineyards, orchards, and fields to be collected by the poor. For some, this is understood as the blessing of reflexive action, for each positive act, we increase positivity in the world.

So this Shabbat, as we approach the weeks before the High Holy Days, we are challenged to refocus our hearts and minds to positive action. As you look back at the year, and write your chapter, how do you frame your victories? Where are your responsibilities to those with whom we share this world?

Blessings for a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah   

        

            

Rabbi Micah Becker-Klein's Weekly d'var Torah

                                                                August 16, 2018

                                     The word Shoftim, the name of this week’s Torah portion, in Hebrew

                                             means “judges.” This portion has a theme running throughout of the Holy

                                             idea of justice, and the shared human responsibility in that work,

                                             specifically the people we entrust as judges. This teaching comes

                                             immediately after a listing of the yearly holy days and festivals, concluding

                                             with Shabbat. It links the idea of honoring our holy time sense to

                                             understand how to live in a holy civil sense. Setting up a vision for a “new

                                             and just society” is paramount, especially for a people like the Israelites

                                             who are about to live in an entirely new way. In addition, it helps prepare

                                            for the next stage of peoplehood from wandering and nomadic to living in the land and with many others. There is a great need to have a vision for a just society and how to establish a common understanding of universal law and order when people's lives intersect and interact.

 

We begin with the idea of those entrusted with helping society be just and civil. By appointing individual judges from a diverse selection of the tribes, trustworthy, they are also entrusted by the Holy One, their decisions are to be followed, and as judges not to be swayed, open to bribery or corruption. No one, not even the king, could defy a decision of a judge as they were to be impartial by definition.

 

One of the most important ideas of Torah is contained within this portion. Familiar to many people the text is often translated as “Justice, justice you shall surely pursue so that you will continue to exist...” A more poetic interpretation could be, “Pursue perfect honesty, so that you will live... (Deut. 16: 20)”. What do you see in this verse? How do you interpret it?

 

The tension of living in society with a civil judicial system is still an experiment in our own time. Much of the U.S. legal system is influenced by ideas found within the Torah, and in particular to this week’s portion, the idea of the impartiality and importance of appointing balanced judges to create a balanced society. Not every decision will be perfect, and justice is always a goal, but not necessarily an absolute guarantee. So, too, in this week’s portion we learn about “cities of refuge.” Places within ancient society where those who were in a state of limbo within the legal system had a chance to have refuge in the midst of a questionable situation.

 

This is one of the more powerful examples we have of how our ancestors tried to create ways of creating a balance. And so do we. We strive for this goal of justice, while realizing no human is perfect, and there are errors sometimes even with those whom we entrust. Therefore, the system of justice is not about an individual, but a system of society. Our Jewish notion of this is that it is an eternal quest and at the heart of what it means to be Jewish and of this planet. We are the pursuers of justice in this world.

 

A few places to consider this idea of human appointed judges and justice:

How do you see the balance of judges and justice today? In the United States? In the world stage?  In Jewish community? In your personal life? If you put forth your vision to the future, how will you help increase justice?

Shabbot Shalom, Rabbi Micah

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 9, 2017

Shalom friends.

This week’s portion is called Ki Tavo. This is one of the concluding portions of the book of Deuteronomy, primarily chapters 26 through 29. The setting is on the plains of Moab near Mount Nebo, in modern day Jordan. Moses addresses the people in final teachings and recounting of their journey. In the next few weeks in the traditional reading cycle, the chronological flow of Torah readings will be interrupted by the designated readings related to the High Holy Days and Sukkot festival.

 

Ki Tavo has three general sections. The first is the instructions for bringing forth the first fruits, (“Bikkurim” in Hebrew) of a new land. Part of the section includes “My father was a wandering (Aramean) immigrant...” which is an important part of the Passover Haggadah text, and is also describing a powerful personal biblical ritual. The second section relates to the tithes that are to be brought in the future following the first fruits. These will be the equivalent of 1/10th of one’s harvest. The third is a listing of blessings and curses. These are framed in terms of, “if you follow the commandments, blessings will come, but if you do not follow the commandments, the curses will come.” How can we understand this concept in our own time?

 

The heart of the teaching this week lies in the big picture and in relation to these three themes: First, how do we get off to a good start in a new place, in a new chapter, or in a new way of thinking?  Second, how do we cultivate a regular sense of responsibility that is universal for all citizens and in our responsibility to supporting one another? Third, what potentially happens when we get out of balance between humans and the environment? This third section is in a way, not about the specific commandments, rather it is about the balance of human and our environment. Commandments are guidelines for living in balance with each other and with the earth. When those are in balance, they are holy, and there are blessings When they are not in balance, when we mistreat the environment or we mistreat our fellow human beings, they are moments of being under the darkness of curses. This is a less literal reading of the commandments, and a way to help us gain an appreciation for the need live in in balance.

 

The portion begins with the phrase “When you enter...” We learn here about the framing of the moments of a new beginning, a new start. Standing at the edge of a new moment of potential, we are reminded to keep the essence of Torah and the essence of God in the forefront of our minds of hearts as the new chapter begins. Built into the text is a ritual. A powerful ritual as described, where each household would come before the High Priest, the spiritual leader, and make a personal declaration, yet one that was identical to every other person. Within the heart of this lies an important lesson. One that is borne out in the text many times. That is, remember from where you came and that we were all slaves, no one human is higher or more important than another. Remember we are all in this together, this journey of life. The framing can be helpful, especially as we approach the High Holy Days and the New Year, and reflect upon our successes, our struggles, and our path to the present. When you come forth with your yearly offering, may the declaration be both one of personal humility and a reminder of the origins of where we have come and the path that lead you here.

 

A personal practice you can try at this time of the year. Write your own, “My ancestor was a...“ statement as a way of writing your own story into this ritual and preparing your heart for the approaching New Year.

 

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Micah

 

Rabbi Micah's Message on August 30,  2018

This week’s portion is called “Ki Tavo”. This is one of the concluding portions of the book of Deuteronomy, primarily chapters 26 through 29. The setting is on the plains of Moab near Mount Nebo, in modern day Jordan. Moses addresses the people in final teachings and recounting of their journey. In the next few weeks in the traditional reading cycle, the chronological flow of Torah readings will be interrupted by the designated readings related to the High Holy Days and Sukkot festival.

Ki Tavo has three general sections. The first is the instructions for bringing forth the first fruits, (“Bikkurim” in Hebrew) of a new land. Part of the section includes “My father was a wandering (Aramean) immigrant...” which is an important part of the Passover Haggadah text, and is also describing a powerful personal biblical ritual. The second section relates to the tithes that are to be brought in the future following the first fruits. These will be the equivalent of 1/10th of one’s harvest. The third is a listing of blessings and curses. These are framed in terms of, “if you follow the commandments, blessings will come, but if you do not follow the commandments, the curses will come.” This stark description is a challenge to each of us to understand in our own time.

The heart of the teaching this week lies in the big picture and in relation to these three themes: First, how do we get off to a good start in a new place, in a new chapter, or in a new way of thinking?  Second, how do we cultivate a regular sense of responsibility that is universal for all citizens and in our responsibility to supporting one another? Third, what potentially happens when we get out of balance between humans and the environment? This third section is in a way, not about the specific commandments, rather it is about the balance of human and our environment. Commandments are guidelines for living in balance with each other and with the earth. When those are in balance, they are holy, and there are blessings When they are not in balance, when we mistreat the environment or we mistreat our fellow human beings, they are moments of being under the darkness of curses. This is a less literal reading of the commandments, and a way to help us gain an appreciation for the need live in in balance.

The portion begins with the phrase “When you enter...” We learn here about the framing of the moments of a new beginning, a new start. Standing at the edge of a new moment of potential, we are reminded to keep the essence of Torah and the essence of God in the forefront of our minds of hearts as the new chapter begins. Built into the text is a ritual. A powerful ritual as described, where each household would come before the High Priest, the spiritual leader, and make a personal declaration, yet one that was identical to every other person. Within the heart of this lies an important lesson. One that is borne out in the text many times. That is, remember from where you came and that we were all slaves, no one human is higher or more important than another. Remember we are all in this together, this journey of life. The framing can be helpful, especially as we approach the High Holy Days and the New Year, and reflect upon our successes, our struggles, and our path to the present. When you come forth with your yearly offering, may the declaration be both one of personal humility and a reminder of the origins of where we have come and the path that lead you here.

A personal practice you can try at this time of the year. Write your own, “My ancestor was a...“ statement as a way of writing your own story into this ritual and preparing your heart for the approaching New Year.

Shabbat shalom-

Rabbi Micah         

Congregation Beth El  107 Adams Street  Bennington  VT  05201

 

Tel: 802-442-9645     Email: cbevtoffice@gmail.com

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