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D'Var Torah

February 12, 2016

This Wednesday was the sixth annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day. Over 140 pro...

This Wednesday was the sixth annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day. Over 140 professionals, lay leaders, and advocates came together on Capitol Hill to lobby for legislation designed to include persons with disabilities in equal pay, fully integrated employment and increase awareness of the need for sufficient respite for caregivers. These are critical issues in the continuing struggle to ensure that the 20% of our population who have a disability, and their families, are fully included in all aspects of our society. More than 25 years after the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is still much work to be done.

As Jews, we have a rich tradition of inclusion in our teachings. This week's parashah, T'rumah, relates the story of the building of the Tabernacle. God instructs Moses to "Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him."  25:2. There is a clear understanding that the Tabernacle is for all of the people, whatever they may look like or their various abilities. And, most importantly, it is their hearts, their passion and commitment, that includes them in this fundraising activity - not any sense of physical or mental ability. For, the Tabernacle is a place where God will dwell among the people, all the people, so each individual must have equal access to that sacred space.

We know these lessons. We are reminded each time we read this Torah reading, and others throughout the year. But, our actions are sometimes slow to follow these teachings. And so, the work continues for all of us, to ensure that for more than one day a year, or one month, we are dedicated to a fully-inclusive world. Thanks to all of you for being part of that movement.

Shabbat Shalom.

Lee I. Sherman 

February 5, 2016

Like most countries in the Western Hemisphere, we are a nation of laws.  Th...

Like most countries in the Western Hemisphere, we are a nation of laws.  There are federal, state, and local laws. We have criminal codes, civil codes, and tax codes. Laws address global issues like environmental concerns or terrorist activity, and local matters like requiring the clearing of snow from the public sidewalk in front of your home within a few hours of the end of a snowfall (this one we have had too much familiarity with recently).
Last week, we read the Torah portion containing the Ten Commandments, several of which form the core of many of today's nations' criminal justice systems. This week, in parashah Mishpatim, we begin the recitation of laws that will encompass much of the rest of Exodus and into Leviticus. Torah sets out Judaism as a religion of laws. As we read through Mishpatim, many of the laws have immediate relevance to us today, but others appear remote and from a culture that is no longer familiar to us. Any laws about the conduct of slavery are abhorrent to us in the 21st century. And who cares that the penalty for the theft of an ox is to repay five oxen, but the penalty for the theft of a sheep is only four sheep?
We care. The laws that we read in Torah, just like the laws that guide our nations' today, set the ground rules for a just and moral society, a society in which humans can live with one another. The reason I have to shovel my sidewalk is that I have a responsibility to the other members of my community who have a need to use that sidewalk. Although rules governing slavery seem antithetical to our notion of the emerging Israelite nation as a just and civil society, those laws prove precisely that point. For the laws of Mishpatim are the most humane treatment of slavery in a world in which slavery was the norm.
The work that we do for and on behalf of vulnerable populations is grounded in the laws that govern our religions and our nations. It is our responsibility to make certain that we do our part to protect and include all of society's members, each of whom has an equal share in the rules and rewards of the society we build for one another.
Shabbat Shalom.

Lee I. Sherman 

January 29, 2016

We had a lot of snow last week. From late Friday afternoon to early Sunday morni...

We had a lot of snow last week. From late Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning, 30 inches fell in Baltimore. The fact that the storm coincided with Shabbat intrigues me. There is nothing more Shabbat-inducing than 30 inches of snow. Traffic was non-existent. Businesses were closed. People enjoyed time with their families. And there was plenty of quiet time for reflection. Baltimore - welcome to our world.   

This week in parashah Yitro, we read the Ten Commandments, perhaps none of which changed the world more than "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy." Thomas Cahill in his book The Gifts of the Jews expressed a number of different "gifts" that Judaism has given to the broader world. Among them was that no ancient society before the Jews had a day of rest. God's gift of Shabbat to the Jews was, in turn, the Jews gift to the world.

In our modern society, the concept of a day of rest has been lost for many. Businesses are open 7 days a week, some for 24 hours each day. We work constantly and never get away from our electronic media. Except for Shabbat. And, those wonderful times when a snow storm forces us to take a break from the routine, slow down, and perhaps get a little rest (until the shoveling begins).

Enjoy your Shabbat.

Lee I. Sherman 

January 22, 2016

Here in Baltimore, there is a great mix of excitement and trepidation as we awai...

Here in Baltimore, there is a great mix of excitement and trepidation as we await the predicted blizzard. Snow accumulations could surpass two feet with winds exceeding fifty miles per hour, making for a dangerous, even life threatening, situation. Events are already postponed or cancelled, including Shabbat services at many congregations. But, at this point as we anticipate, most people are staying positive, even looking forward to a change in the routine and spending more quiet time with their families. It could be a different story once we are enmeshed in the difficulties such a storm can bring.

In this week's parashah, B'shallah, the Israelites have escaped Egypt and begun their journey to their new home in the Promised Land. One can imagine the excitement of the people, as well as their concerns about the unknown future that awaits. And then, they immediately come up against the sea impeding their progress. But God instructs Moses to hold out his arm and the waters will part for safe passage. A second raising of the arm by Moses engulfs the Egyptians who are in hot pursuit. The Children of Israel are undoubtedly awestruck, both in the power of God and the leadership of Moses. Yet, they still have doubts. Complaints of lack of water and food are upcoming in the next few days and weeks.

We may wonder why the Israelites are not totally thankful and content to be out of the shackles of slavery. But, we need to remember the sudden changes that have enveloped them. Additionally, they are moving into an unknown, which as they face with a mix of excitement and trepidation is at times unsettling. Stay safe in the storm.

Shabbat Shalom

Lee I. Sherman