Our tradition looks at every completion as the start of a new cycle. This Shabbat we complete the reading of the third book of the Bible, Va-Yikra, and in the afternoon begin the fourth book, Be’midbar. Before the last verse of Be’hukkotai the congregation rises and when the last words are read we respond with “Chazak chazak v’nithazek.” This anthem – “Strength, strength and may we be strengthened” – reflects the Jewish ideal that recognizes that shared study gives the individual and the community the ability to commit and recommit to a process that can guarantee the future.
This Shabbat we also welcome the new month of Sivan. On the Shabbat before a new moon we stand in prayer for a month filled with God’s blessings. One month is drawing to a close and we look forward to a new month filled with possibilities. This is another example of our ability to appreciate the present while we find the strength to envision a brighter tomorrow.
Yet, when we read the last two portions of Leviticus, we seem to be faced with laws that can be beneficial to individuals and to the community but, if not followed, can lead to disaster. Some people understand this formula as being direct and clear. If you do not follow God’s laws as stated in the Torah, then you will be liable to all sorts of misfortunes and calamities. Others understand these warnings and blessings as a general introduction to the idea of our culture and civilization’s direction. When individuals and the community live by the general understanding of mutual responsibility to each other and to the community – when the essence of Jewish living allows us to care for the less fortunate, the stranger, those in need – then we can call ourselves “blessed.”
The Torah refers to us as an “am kadosh,” a holy people, dedicated to representing God in this world. The Talmud (Sotah 14a) teaches us that the Bible lists many places where God takes care of those in need. He clothed the naked, visited the sick, comforted the mourning, and buried the dead.
So, too, we have the obligation to follow His ways.
The concept of Tikkun Olam, the repairing of the world, has become an important aspect of modern Jewish identity. We have taken the words of the Torah and interpreted them as a directive to help make this world a better place. We cannot forget, however, that our tradition has always recognized that we have to start this process by being aware of our identity and our strengths and weakness. The Torah portions, the recognition of our need for mutual strengthening of our community, and the prayer for the new month all are part of the Jewish way of life.
We cannot leave this topic without mentioning the Sefira, counting the days from Passover to Shavuot. As it is said, we are commanded to count each day, but what is equally important is to make sure that we make each day count.
During this time, when we are all facing so much stress and the future is uncertain, let us reaffirm our commitment to looking toward the future with hope and energy. May we continue to understand the dynamic of living as an am kadosh, a people with a mission.