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Parashat Re'eh: 118 Goats in Boise, Idaho

One of my delights as a rabbi is working with conversion students, those who are on a path to choose Judaism and become a part of the Jewish people.

There is no guidebook, no rules, for exactly what a conversion student studies with me. Generally, I encourage each conversion candidate to spend about a year living Jewishly, in the daily, weekly, and annual rhythm of Jewish time, and to pick a topic of personal study and interest.

Often, that topic is our Torah, our sacred story. This week, in our Torah, we come to parashat Yitro. We are in the desert, at the beginning of our wandering. We gather at the foot of Mount Sinai, and we receive that very Torah.

Our tradition teaches us that each and every one of us stood at Sinai for that moment of revelation. As we learn later in the Torah, in Deuteronomy,

"You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer—
to enter into the covenant of the Eternal your God…I make this covenant…not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Eternal our God and with those who are not with us here this day.”

(Deut 29:9-14)These words are perhaps familiar from our Yom Kippur morning Torah reading when we each imagine standing before God.

Our Midrash, our interpretive tradition, makes clear that the text is referring not to those who are absent from the assembly who were alive at that moment, but to all future generations, too. To me, and to you.

“As Rabbi Abahu said in the name of Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani, ‘Why does it say, ‘Those who are here; and those who are not here without using the word, standing? Because all the souls were there, even though their bodies had not yet been created.’” (Midrash Tanchuma, Nitzavim 3)

All souls were there, even if their bodies were not, even if they were not physically present at that moment in time.

Once, when I was studying this Torah portion with a conversion student, she paused at these words.“We all stood at Sinai. Okay. Was I there? I’m not Jewish, not yet, anyway.

”I smiled. “I remember what you said to me, the first time we met, about why you wanted to study toward conversion. Do you?”

Without missing a beat, she said, “Because I know, I believe, I feel it - I have a Jewish soul.”

“Then you were there,” I said. “Every soul was there. You were there. Our Torah belongs to you as much as it belongs to me.”We all stood at Sinai, each and every one of us. We stand together at moments of revelation, at moments of joy.

And we stand together at moments of struggle, too.

Even though we were not all physically present in Colleyville, Texas when an armed gunman held four people, hostage, in their synagogue on Shabbat, we stood at Colleyville. Each and every one of us. Our souls were there, even if our bodies were not.

We stand together in moments of transcendence, and we stand together in moments of sorrow.

When something happens to any member of our Jewish community, when a threat arises for any member of our global Jewish family, it happens to us, too.

We feel that deep connection to Jews around the world, which enables us to walk into a synagogue in Singapore or Seattle and share in familiar prayers and melodies.

And we share the pain of those who suffer around the world. Their struggles are our own

.Anti-semitism is on the rise around the world and here in the United States. While there is no particular threat to our community, to our house of worship, at this time, the anti-semitic attacks in Colleyville, in Pittsburgh, in Poway - these remind us of our vulnerability.

It is ok to be afraid because we can imagine what happened there happening to us.

And at the same time, we do not let our fear keep us from our faith, from celebrating Shabbat with our Temple family. We stand here this day. We are here. Our souls are all here, present, standing together in solidarity.

What is there for us to do?

We cry. We pray. We offer blessings of gratitude that the hostages escaped, safely.

We take all the necessary safety and security precautions, here at Temple. We wish that it weren’t so. We wish we lived in a world free from violence, pain, and hatred. That’s also what we pray for, each and every week.

We stand with the Jews of Colleyville, with the Jews of France, with the growing number of Jews around the world who experience an anti-semitic offense each year. When any of our safety is threatened, we are there. Our souls are there. We stand together.

When something happens to any of us, it happens to us all.

The Torah portion we read immediately following the attack in Colleyville is Parashat Yitro, for Moses’ father-in-law. It’s notable that he is not Jewish, and he offers us some of the most sage wisdom in the Torah.

He comes into the Israelite camp to see his son-in-law, Moses. Moses is a new leader. Moses is green. He is trying to adjudicate every issue, to mediate between the water bearers and the woodchoppers, to give answers to disputes big and small. He is attempting to do it all himself. He is trying to stand alone. And he is failing.

Yitro says to Moses:

“What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?… The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you, you cannot do it alone.” (Exodus 18:14-17)You cannot do it alone. You cannot, and I cannot. The Jews of Colleyville cannot. No one can bear the weight of hatred and violence alone. We stand together as a Jewish people, and we stand with the support of leaders from across faiths in our community.

A nearby church hosted the powerful vigil in Colleyville this past week. Here in Pittsfield, we deeply appreciate the dedicated support and commitment from our police department and our public officials. To augment our security efforts at Temple, we’ll have the opportunity to learn from experts from around the country, to receive grants and support from national and statewide outlets.

We are in this together

.We stand together. You cannot do it alone.

We stand here this day, shaken, perhaps, saddened, for sure. It is not always easy to feel the weight of the world on our shoulders, the burdens of others, of something that did not immediately happen to us, but because it happened to the Jewish people, in a synagogue, it happened to us, too. What happens to others happens to us - that’s hard and painful and powerful, too.

We do not stand alone.

We are not alone tonight, and we are not alone, going forward.

If you are struggling, isolated, angry, afraid - do not suffer alone.

We stand together. You cannot do it alone.

Reach out and connect. We are here for you, we are here for each other.

We hold each other up. That’s the only way we can truly stand. Leaning on each other. When one of us struggles, so do we all. But those who sew in tears will reap in joy. We stand together, moving toward a stronger future, together.

Fri, March 1 2024 21 Adar I 5784