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Shavuot 5772 - Enduring Lessons In Times of Disaster
Lessons of Torah that influence our response in times of disaster.
Enduring Lessons In Times of Disaster
I have the honor of serving as the rabbinic intern at Adat Ari El, a large synagogue in Los Angeles. Next Saturday night, during our traditional late-night study session for the holiday of Shavuot, I will be teaching a verse from the Torah that I feel exemplifies Judaism. The holiday of Shavuot, which falls seven weeks after Passover, commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Israelite people at Mt. Sinai following the exodus from Egypt. Shavuot is often celebrated by engaging in all-night study in anticipation of receiving Torah in the morning. This practice, developed by medieval mystics, has become quite popular in recent years. It’s something that I always attempt to remain awake for, despite being the parent of three young children.
This year though, I am part of the Shavuot faculty, if you will (and thus must remain awake, at least through my own teaching.) This year’s theme at Adat Ari El is “standing on one foot” and the clergy are teaching one verse that represents the Jewish Tradition. This concept comes from a story in the Talmud about the great sage Rabbi Hillel. A man approached him, asking to be taught all of the Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel responded, “"What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it.” With my assignment in hand, I set out to find a verse that represented the whole of Judaism.
I first thought of one of my favorite verses from the prophet Jeremiah (29:7), "Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper." To me, this verse represented my former life work in the American Red Cross and now as a volunteer with Nechama and the Los Angeles Mayor’s Crisis Response Team. I have felt that this verse teaches us to be engaged in the life of the community and to serve our surrounding community.
But then I felt that this verse was a bit too external-focused. I then decided that my verse for my teaching would be another favorite of mine, Leviticus 19:16, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” This verse, I feel, better represents the whole of Judaism and of Torah, which we commemorate receiving this upcoming Saturday night. This verse teaches us to take action, to help others, to do good works in the world. It is our role as Jews to protect, to save, to rebuild. Therefore, organizations like Nechama: Jewish Response to Disaster fulfill this essential precept from our Torah and our tradition by not standing idly by but by doing God’s work in our communities. Hag Shavuot Sameach! Happy Shavuot!
Matt Rosenberg is a Senior Rabbinical Student at American Jewish University in California and a Nechama volunteer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AJWS offers On1Foot as a resource to the community out of our desire to encourage and enrich the ongoing conversation about Judaism and Social Justice. The statements made and views expressed in this work are solely the responsibility of their authors.
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