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Parashat Beshalach: In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Get Going!

Today, the last day of July, marks the conclusion of our month-long Spiritual Physical Fitness Challenge. So many of you have embraced our SPF Challenge in meaningful and inspiring ways. We’ve been lucky enough to hear from members of our community throughout the month about your experiences in nature, with meditation, journaling, poetry, photography, walking, hiking, biking, baking, and being.

We don’t take the opportunities we’ve had this month for granted. We are privileged to live in a community where it is easy to get outside, to be safe and socially distant on trails or in our own backyards. We are blessed to live in a beautiful place. Ashreinu mah tov helkeinu— we are happy, for - even in the midst of challenges and sorrow - how great is our portion, our lot in life!

While our formal challenge is coming to a close, the lessons we learned and embraced stay with us, as we continue walking on this journey. In a few weeks, we begin the Hebrew month of Elul - itself another kind of monthlong spiritual challenge. Elul is the last month of the Jewish year, and the conclusion of Elul brings us to Rosh Hashanah - the New Year. Elul is a monthlong spiritual challenge to prepare ourselves for the High Holy Days.

Just as we turned our eyes to nature and embodied experiences in new ways during the month of July, in the month of Elul, we turn inward to prepare ourselves for the High Holy Days. We call this process of reflection and introspection Tikkun Middot. You may recognize one half of that phrase - Tikkun. More on that in a moment.

Tikkun Middot means Repair of our Attributes. Middot, attributes or character traits, literally means measures or weights. Call to mind the image of a scale. The process of Tikkun Middot, of repairing our attributes, is about bringing our character traits into balance. Do we tend to be more hubristic than humble? How can we bring that into balance? Do we tend to be more lenient than just? Elul is the month to calibrate our inner scales and prepare ourselves for the deep work of teshuva, repentance and return, that defines the High Holy Days.

There are many ways to take on this spiritual challenge of Tikkun Middot. You may find that some of the practices you honed in our Spiritual Physical Fitness challenge will serve you well - hiking, walking, or simply noticing.

I am thrilled that many of you have already registered for my upcoming course entitled Awareness in Action. Utilizing the resources of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, I’ll be guiding us through independent materials and in a weekly spiritual discussion group through a process of Tikkun Middot - of bringing ourselves into balance as we anticipate a new year. The course begins this week - we’ll share info about that in our announcements tonight - and I encourage you to reach out with questions or enroll if this sounds right for you.

This is also an ideal time of year for an annual spiritual check up. Just like we visit our physicians on a regular basis, I am here to meet with you individually or as a family as we head into the end of an unprecedented year. While we can’t meet for coffee or in my study, I would be honored set up a time to talk by phone or zoom.

Tikkun Middot is an essential first step in our repair of ourselves, and an essential first step in the repair of the world - Tikkun Olam. Only after we have repaired ourselves can we work toward the repair of the world.

In our adult education class on the Aleinu prayer this past month, we learned that the phrase L’takein olam - to repair the world - appears in one of the later paragraphs of this prayer, that we haven’t typically had the custom of reciting at TAA. We learn more about this phrase in commentary in our High Holy Day Machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh:

What does God require of us? We look to our prophet Micah, who attempts to answer that question:

“It has been told to you, oh human, what is good and what the Eternal seeks from you: do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Yesterday, at Representative John Lewis’ funeral, former President George W. Bush used these words to describe Lewis and all those who continue in his legacy. Bush said, “[John] will live forever in the hearts of Americans, who act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with their God.” 

Many of you are familiar with Lewis, who was one of the leading moral voices of the civil rights movement for decades. The youngest speaker at the March on Washington, and a key organizer of Selma March. 

In his eulogy, former President Barack Obama reminded us that like the work of Tikkun Middot, the practice of repairing ourselves, the work of Tikkun Olam - repairing and perfecting our world, is a practice, too. As he said:

“...this country is a constant work in progress. We’re born with instructions: To form a more perfect union. Explicit in those words is the idea that we’re imperfect, that what gives each new generation purpose is to take up the unfinished work of the last and carry it further than anyone might have thought possible. John Lewis, first of the Freedom Riders, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the March from Selma to Montgomery, member of Congress representing the people of this state and this district for 33 years, mentor to young people...He not only embraced that responsibility, but he made it his life’s work...”

A work in progress. That’s who we are. That’s our community. That’s our country. That’s what our world is. And here we are, walking into the waning weeks of the year 5780, ready to reflect, to resolve to improve. To bring ourselves and our world into greater balance. To continue the legacy of John Lewis and so many others, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly, and make the world better for all. May we all be inspired by Lewis’ own words, published posthumously this week:

“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”

May we walk there together, toward repair of ourselves and our world. Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch
Temple Anshe Amunim | Pittsfield, MA

Fri, March 1 2024 21 Adar I 5784