MOVING FORWARD WHILE LEARNING FROM THE PAST

I hope that it is apparent to most readers by now that I am a student of Torah and proudly affiliated with the Reform movement and its progressive stance on egalitarianism, social justice, interfaith relations and similar values. I also have a longstanding appreciation for spirituality in its many forms, from Jewish mystical traditions such as kabbalah and hasidism to Eastern philosophies and disciplines such as yoga and meditation. I believe this depth and breadth of exposure to religious ideas and practices has shaped my life and relationships in many positive ways and has led me to this vocation of serving as a congregational rabbi and teacher of Jewish spirituality.

As a decidedly Reform rabbi, there are some traditional ideas and practices I do not observe, such as fasting on Tisha b’Av, the day on which we commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. I was proud to represent Temple Israel in the well-attended Tisha b’Av service led by Reform rabbis, cantors and musicians at Temple Beth Am this past Monday night. It set the perfect tone for a day of reflection on the causes of discord in the past and the lessons to be learned and applied in the present. It caused me to think deeply about recent circumstances which have resulted in discord within our beloved Temple Israel family. In a moment, I will share with you one of the conclusions I reached in the course of my reflection.

It should also be apparent to most readers that I find in the weekly Torah portion timely messages for us to hear and act one. This is no less true on this Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Consolation which follows Tisha b’Av when the Haftarah from the prophet Isaiah conveys a message of hope and reconciliation after a period of mourning and somber reflection. In addition to the Haftarah, this week’s Torah portion, Va-et’chanan (Deut 3:23-7:11), is particularly relevant to the situation in which we find ourselves at Temple Israel.

Moses is speaking to the Israelites as they prepare to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land, recounting their hardships and the lessons to be learned from them. He begins by recalling how he pleaded with God to be allowed to enter the Promised Land but his request was not granted. He could have responded with indignation and resentment, but he chose to accept his fate with trust in God’s wisdom and love.

There are many fine commentaries to read on this portion but the best I have seen recently is by Rabbi Marc Saperstein which is featured on the URJ’s “Torah study” web page on ReformJudaism.org. Rabbi Saperstein is a highly-respected rabbi and teacher worldwide, so his words made a profound impact on me when I read them in light of all that I mentioned above. I hope you will read his commentary here but I will share briefly his closing words which touched me most deeply. He writes:

“Maturity impels us to confront our own limitations, to accept what cannot be changed, in the faith that with all our failings and weaknesses, with all our unfulfilled dreams and our disappointed hopes, each one of us in our unique individuality is cherished by God, who wants us to be the very best we can be but who accepts our humble contrition over what we did not achieve.”

As Rabbi Saperstein points out, no matter how talented or influential we may be, the future does not always match our desires and our will. Disappointment is a necessary part of human life but we can learn from Moses’ example that there are times when it is best to accept our lot and limitations with dignity and peace.

In taking the above lessons to heart, I informed our congregation’s members and friends today that I will abide by the decision to end my term of service as Temple Israel’s rabbi at the conclusion of my contract term (June 30, 2018.) I am at peace with that decision and look forward to the hope and reconciliation that is now possible.

I am grateful to all the teachers and teachings that have helped me to cultivate a heart that appreciates wisdom wherever it is to be found. I pray that we might all look to the lessons our spiritual tradition has to offer, helping us to move forward while we simultaneously learn from the past.

Shabbat Shalom,

R’ Moshe Tom

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