Hope for the Future
Parashot Matot uMas’ei – August 5-6, 2016 – 2-3 Menachem Av 5776
(This talk is also linked to the website of Congregation P’nai Tikvah.)
In this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites arrive at the Jordan River after forty years of wandering in the wilderness. They have more to do and more to experience before they are ready to enter the Promised Land, but the wandering from place is now behind them. It is approximately 3,916 years since the Israelites arrived at the Jordan River, and here we are, arriving at the Indigo Valley Community Center.
Like the ancient Israelites, we are also not at the end of our journey. I am here as your Interim Rabbi. I am serving together with Cantor Marla and Tim and Bill, and I will be standing on the shoulders of Rabbi Mintz, looking out over the horizon as our congregation prepares for the continuing search to identify just the right rabbi to serve as your permanent rabbi for years to come.
When the Israelites crossed the River Jordan and entered the Promised Land, they brought with them the mishkan, the portable sanctuary that they had constructed at the foot of Mt. Sinai. When the Israelites made camp, the portable sanctuary was in the middle of the camp. When they traveled, the sanctuary and all of its furnishings were carefully packed and carried through the wilderness.
When the Israelites finally entered the Promised Land, they journeyed to a place called Shiloh. They placed their portal sanctuary at Shiloh, and that sanctuary continued to serve as the center of Jewish life for hundreds of years. Inside the sanctuary was the holy ark, and inside the ark were the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments.
Israelites traveled from all over to make pilgrimage to the sanctuary at Shiloh in order to bring offerings on the festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Succot, which we call in English Passover, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles.
Eventually King David brought the ark to Jerusalem. After David died, his son Solomon became king, and it was Solomon who built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Solomon’s Temple stood for almost four hundred years and then it was destroyed by the Babylonians.
Fifty years later, the Persians conquered Babylonia and the Persian King Cyrus invited the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. The Second Temple stood for almost 500 years, and then it was destroyed by the Romans.
Here we are in the midst of summer when we observe a sad period of Jewish remembrance that we call the “three weeks.” These three weeks are very a sad time, because it is traditional to remember the destruction of the first and second Temples and many other tragic events that happened to our people.
The three weeks began on July 24th. In Hebrew, we call the beginning day shiva asar b’Tammuz, the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz. The ending day of the three weeks falls this year on August 14th. In Hebrew, we call that day Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av.
The 17th of Tammuz is the day when we remember the breaching of the wall around Jerusalem by the Romans. The 9th of Av is the day we remember the destruction of both the first Temple and the second Temple in Jerusalem.
Tisha B’Av is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, but our sadness is focused into the evening and the morning. When we get to the afternoon of Tisha B’Av, that is when we begin to lift up our hearts and hope and pray for a beautiful new future for the Jewish people and the entire world.
The rabbis of ancient Israel came to realize that the destruction of the Temple and the attendant exile of the Jewish people was simply too much for us to bear, so the rabbis taught that the Temple may not be rebuilt by human hands. The Temple may only be rebuilt by G-o-d.
The saddest part of the destruction of the Second Temple is that it was destroyed because of sinat hinam, free flowing hatred. Today, we use the expression “random acts of kindness and senseless acts of love.” Sinat hinam is just the opposite. It means random acts of meanness and senseless acts of hatred. The Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed 1946 years ago because people hated each other and were intolerant of each other instead of loving each other.
There was a great Rabbi named Yochanan ben Zakkai, who lived at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. It was Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai who convinced the Roman Governor Vespasian to give the Jewish people a place called Yavneh. Yavneh was located along the Mediterranean in what is now the State of Israel. The rabbis founded an academy at Yavneh for the development of a new form of Judaism. This new form is called rabbinic Judaism because it was created by the rabbis.
Ancient Judaism was based on sacrifices, and the sacrifices were based on the Israelites being farmers and animal herders. Modern Judaism is based on prayer, study, charity, and deeds of loving kindness. Modern Judaism is like the mishkan, the portable sanctuary in the wilderness because Modern Judaism can be practiced anywhere. We just need to have a place that is safe and clean and designated for prayer, study, charity, and deeds of loving kindness.
After the Second Temple was destroyed, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai went for a walk with his disciple Rabbi Yehoshua. As they walked, they came upon the site where the remains of the Temple lay in ruins. “Oy, poor us!” said Rabbi Yehoshua. “The place that atoned for the sins of the Jewish people is lying in ruins!”
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai comforted his disciple Rabbi Yehoshua. “Don’t be so sad, my son,” said Rabbi Yochanan, “There is another way that is equally meritorious for us to gain atonement. Even though the Temple is destroyed, we can still gain atonement through deeds of loving kindness.”
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai went on to recite the words of the Prophet Hosea, who said, in G-o-d’s name, “It is loving kindness that I desire, and not sacrifice.”
The practice of rabbinic Judaism is the practice of helping to make this world a better place. The combination of prayer, study, charity and deeds of loving kindness are the primary Jewish paths for serving G-o-d for serving G-o-d in these modern times.
The leaders of the Indigo Valley Community Center are serving G-o-d by following the very same words that we follow, because the Prophet Hosea is one of the many prophets we have in common. Our newfound friends and our old friends at the Indigo Valley Community Center have not just opened their doors to us; they have opened their hearts to us. We have a place where our precious memorial plaques for our beloveds who have passed from this world will be available for us to view when we arrive for worship, havdallah, Torah study and other classes.
Our mezuzah graces the door of the Center. The words inside the mezuzah tell us that we are to love G-o-d. We are to love G-o-d because we are created in the image of G-o-d, and it is through the love G-o-d that we learn to love one another. We give thanks for the Indigo Valley Community Center and their gracious loving kindness. May the Indigo Valley Community Center thrive; and may Congregation P’nai Tikvah also thrive in its midst.
Now I want to turn to you, the members and guests of Congregation Pnai Tikvah. You are the backbone of this holy endeavor. Your love and support of this congregation are the keys to unlocking our collective future. Thank you for being here this evening and thank you for welcoming me so warmly in your Pnai Tikvah family.