Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Thought on the Parasha

Walking the Tightrope

Mishpatim has many, many laws. So many that one may be misled into believing that the entirety of one’s obligation as a Jew is halakha and mitzvah. However the end of the parasha makes it clear that all of these mitzvot occur in the context of a brit, a covenant: And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord … And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said na’aseh vi’nishma, will we do, and we will listen (Shemot, 24:4, 7).

A brit demands more than just adherence to the laws, it demands a partnership, a sharing of the vision and an incorporation of that vision into one’s day-to-day life. One way this manifests itself is in the obligation to live up not just to the letter of the law, but to its spirit. To live according to the spirit of the law requires inquiry into the underlying values of the mitzvot. This is often a highly speculative endeavor. As any study of the literature of ta’amei ha’mitzvot, the reasons of the mitzvot, will bear out, the range of explanations as to the underlying value for certain mitzvot can be breathtaking. Nevertheless, it is a process that we are required to undertake if we want to truly be parties to the brit, to truly live our lives according to Torah values and not just Torah law.

Hazal attempted to do this, fully recognizing that the answers would not always be clear. Regarding the mitzvah in this week’s parasha to unburden a donkey which is struggling under its burden (Shemot, 23:5), the Talmud asks whether the underlying principle here is one of concern for the suffering of animals, or whether it is to help the owner whose property might become damaged. In other words, is tza’ar ba’alei chayim, preventing animal suffering, a Biblical principle or not (Baba Metzia 32b)? This question is asked first in regard to interpreting the exact parameters of the mitzvah itself. However, once the Gemara has established that this is a Biblical value, it becomes an independent obligation that plays out in many different contexts in the Talmud (see, for example, Shabbat 128b and Shulkhan Arukh OH 305:18–20). This endeavor, to work to identify the values and then to see the values as operative in our lives, is a core part of understanding the mitzvot as part of a brit, and not just as halakha narrowly defined.

However, this engagement with values and ta’amei ha’mitzvot can be dangerous. It can lead to us believing that the only thing that really matters is the reason behind the mitzvah, that the actual performance is not so important. Hazal were well aware of this concern. “Why did the Torah not give reasons for the mitzvot?” asks the Talmud. “Because in the two places where it did, one of the greatest people stumbled as a result. It says, ‘He [the king] should not have too many wives, lest they lead his heart astray.’ Said Solomon: I will have many wives and not be led astray” (Sanhedrin 21b). In other words, too much talk about reasons leads to devaluing the actual performance.

One way to sensitize ourselves to the Torah’s values is to pay close attention to the written Torah, to its narratives and its pshat, its simple meaning. As Ramban states in the very beginning of his commentary on the Torah, the Torah is not just a book of laws. It begins with Breishit, a narrative, so that we can learn the meaning of our place in this world and the values with which we must live our lives (Breishit, 1:1).

Similarly, when it comes to the mitzvot of the Torah, the pshat of these, even when in contrast to the narrow halakhic interpretation, often contains insight into the underlying values. Thus, the mitzvah not to oppress the stranger (Shemot, 22:20) is understood by the Rabbis to refer only to the convert, while on its pshat level, it refers to a non-Jew who resides within our territory. As a result of this pshat, Sefer HaChinukh interprets this mitzvah as referring to anyone who is in a foreign country and lacks the safety and security of home. We could generalize it further to include anyone who is marginalized and vulnerable. Even if this is not technically included in the mitzvah, it can and should be seen as the underlying value of the mitzvah, and it must guide us in our interactions with others.

Another example is the demand of “an eye for an eye” (Shemot, 21:24). Why is this written so harshly when the Rabbis teach us that the actual law merely requires the responsible party to pay compensation when one inflicts personal injury on another? Ibn Ezra and Rambam explain that this framing communicates a critical message: Do not think that money really corrects the wrong. This is not, at its core, a monetary issue. On a moral level, a person who willfully took out someone else’s eye deserves a similar fate. In practice we will not inflict this punishment—violence begets violence and this will only be hurtful to society—so we accept monetary payment instead. But that is only a substitute, a stand-in. A grave wrong has been done that can never be fully rectified.

Additionally, such focus can lead to too much latitude in interpreting and applying halakha, to a forcing of the details and the texts to conform to a person’s sense of what the underlying values are or should be. Lo darshinan taima di’kra, we don’t use the reasons of the mitzvah in determining its halakhic parameters, is a major principle in the Talmud. True, as we have seen, there are times in which the reasons do play a role, but how and under what circumstances is a serious question. The more speculative the reason, the more it stretches the simple sense of the texts, the less weight it will have in the halakhic process.

Sefat Emet encapsulates these tensions in one of his reflections on na’aseh vi’nishma. He writes that by putting na’aseh before nishma, the people showed that they were committed to doing God’s word regardless of whether or not it made sense to them. Armed with this a priori commitment, they could engage in nishma, an exploration of the reasons for the mitzvot, and not be led astray. More than that, since,

it was more dear in their eyes to do God’s will than to understand the reasons, they merited to understand the reasons … For the reasons are more ‘inner’ (the spiritual essence, the soul) than the actual physical performance (the body) of the mitzvah.

The commitment to observe regardless made the highest performance of mitzvot possible. It allowed for the fullest religious life: the observance of halakha combined with the living of one’s life according to the values of the Torah. One did not substitute for the other; one reinforced the other.

And so it is for the halakhic process. Without an a priori commitment to submit to God’s will, a person may read his or her own values into the halakha, forcing the halakha to say something that is true to his or her values but false to the Torah’s values or the Torah’s laws. But if one starts with a disposition of submission, then, says Sfat Emet, they can truly partner with God, for “God gave the Children of Israel the ability for their words to have the power to be part of the reasons of the Torah, just like God’s words … And this is the idea of the Oral Law: that the Children of Israel merit to innovate those things that were carved out before God.”

We play a role in interpreting and applying halakha. If we come to impose our will on the halakha, then we do violence to the system and we are working in opposition to God. If, however, we come to let the halakha guide us, to be led by the mitzvot and their reasons, then we can be part of the process. We can be part of discovering what those reasons are. We can engage those reasons in interpreting the halakha without the fear that we will overstep, that we will abuse this privilege. Our voice will matter when it is God’s voice that matters most. If we start with na’aseh, we can reach the level of nishma. We can live a religious life, brit in its fullest sense, a life of Torah observance and Torah values, a life guided by God’s law, and a life in an ongoing relationship with God.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Thought on the Parasha

Feel free to download and print the Parashat Yitro sheet and share it with your friends and family.

Time to Grow Up

When Bnei Yisrael receive the Torah, it is much more than a passive act; they actively enter into a brit, a covenant, with God. The brit preceded the giving of the commandments and was its framing:

And now, if you will listen to My voice, and keep My covenant, then you shall be unto Me a treasured possession from all the nations...And Moshe came and called to the elders of the nation, and he placed before them all of these things that God had commanded him. And the entire nation answered together and said, 'Everything that God has said we will do'" (Shemot, 19:5-8).

The brit also comes after the Ten Commandments, in the opening of Parashat Mishpatim: "And these are the laws which you shall place before them" (Shemot, 21:1). This echoes the "placing before them" found in Shemot 19:7, the intention being to place the laws before the people for their approval and willing acceptance, which we find at the close of the same parasha:

And Moshe came and he related to the people all of the words of God and all the laws [the "words" presumably referring to the aseret ha'devarim and the "laws" to the mishpatim, the civil laws] and the entire nation responded as one voice and said, all the words which God has spoken we will do ... And he took the book of the covenant and he read it to the people, and they said: everything that God has spoken we will do and we will hear. And Moshe took the blood and he sprinkled it on the people and he said, "Behold the blood of the covenant which God has made with you concerning all these commands" (Shemot, 24:3-8).

The laws are placed before the people, and they accept them, entering into a brit with God, a binding, two-sided covenant. Thus Bnei Yisrael are not simply commanded; they actively and freely accept the commandment of God and enter into a brit with God.

Why, we might ask, does commandedness not suffice? Would the people not be obligated to follow God's command even if they had not entered into a brit? In fact, the shift from unilateral commadedness to a two-sided brit occurs much earlier, at the beginning of Breishit. Adam and Chava were given a unilateral Divine command, and they violated it. The next time God commands, God does so in the framework of a brit, a relationship: "And I will establish my brit with you, and you will come into the ark..." (Breishit, 6:28), and again when Noah and his family exit the ark:

One who spills the blood of man, by man shall his blood be spilled, because in the image of God God made man ... And I, behold I will establish my brit with you and with your seed after you ... And I will establish my brit with you and no more will all flesh be destroyed from the waters of a flood, and there will no longer be a flood to destroy the land (Breishit, 9:6, 8, 11).

While the brit with Noah relates to the protection of the human species and the world and not to the keeping of mitzvot per se, the mitzvot are, nevertheless, given in the context of this committed relationship and are not merely dictated unilaterally from the all-powerful Lawgiver.

The significance and specificity of brit deepens when God commands Avraham to inscribe in his flesh the sign of the brit and commands him in the brit milah. Here, the purpose of the brit is not merely the survival of species but "an everlasting brit between Me and you, and between your children after you for all generations, to be to you as a God and to your children after you" (Breishit, 17:7). Here, the brit establishes the very relationship between God and the children of Avraham. And now, in Parashat Yitro, the brit deepens even further. With this brit, God chooses the nation of Bnei Israel, and our part is not simply one of identity. Rather, we agree to live up to a code of standards, to do "all the words and all the laws."

What is the difference between being commanded unilaterally and accepting the commands as part of a brit? It is the difference between being a child and being an adult. Adam and Chava in Gan Eden were like children; they had no real, mature opinions of their own, no real values of their own, and no autonomy. They were unilaterally commanded, and all that was asked of them was obedience. All they could do to assert their autonomy was rebel, to refuse to follow God's command. Only once they rebelled and were kicked out of Gan Eden, out of the parental home, did they become autonomous beings able to make their own value judgments: "you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Now, in the post-Edenic world, to reenter a relationship with God we must do so as adults. To be commanded and to follow are not enough. We must bring the entirety of our will, our personality, our values, and our autonomy willingly and freely into a relationship with God. God wants more than followers; God wants partners.

This is a religion of adulthood, not of blind faith and obedience. It is not only one of Commander and commanded, but of parties in a brit. It is a religion in which, through our free acceptance of the mitzvot and our role in interpreting and applying them, in the very enterprise of Torah she'b'al peh, the Oral Torah, we are partners with God. Only parties to a brit can be both deeply and passionately committed to its full observance and at the same time say, "Why should our father's name be lost to his clan because he had no son?" (Bamidbar, 27:3), or, "Why should we be excluded from bringing God's sacrifice in its appointed time together with Bnei Yisrael?" (Bamidbar, 9:7). To be in a bilateral relationship is to be fully committed to participating with the totality of one's personality, without silencing the part of one's soul that asks, "How does this make sense? How is this just?" At the same time, to be a party to a brit is to accept that one must work to find answers within the context of the brit.

To be a party to a brit also means that we do not discharge our obligation simply by doing what is commanded of us. If we are truly partners, then we must internalize the commitments and values of the brit; we must follow the na'aseh (we will do) with the nishma (we will listen, and internalize). We must share and participate in the brit, in its visions and its goals. We must see ourselves as partnering with God in all aspects of our lives, and we must work to bring the world to a better place, to a fuller realization of the values and vision of the Torah and the brit.

In many ways, we have largely abdicated these responsibilities of brit and regressed to living a religion of mere commadedness, living our religious lives as children rather than adults. We find ourselves afraid to ask the questions that deeply trouble us, and if we do, we are often not willing to put in the hard work required to find answers within Torah, to find answers while holding fast to the brit. We don't want to be troubled to do more than keep the mitzvot; we don't want to be told that we need to bring Torah values into our day-to-day (secular) life; and we certainly don't want to accept the responsibility of internalizing a Torah vision within our own, defining our ambitions and our place in the world on the basis of such a brit. Perhaps we are afraid that this would require a total submerging of our own identity, but that is not the nature of a brit. The true brit is a fusing of the fullness of our own personality with the demands, commands, and vision of God and Torah. This is our challenge. Will we continue living the religion of Gan Eden, of simple commadedness, or will we be able to face the challenge of living the religious life of an adult, the religious life of the Torah of Har Sinai, the Torah of a brit?

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Thought on the Parasha

Feel free to download and print the Parashat BiShalach sheet and share it with your friends and family.

Remind Me: What are We Supposed to be Remembering?

The story of Amalek is recorded twice in the Torah: once in our parasha, BiShalach, and again at the end of Parashat Ki Teitzei in Devarim. In our parasha, we are instructed to write a record of what Amalek did to us, but we are not commanded to actively remember the events. God also declares that God has waged an eternal war against Amalek and will destroy the memory of them. In contrast, the passage in Devarim shifts the focus from God to the people. There, we are commanded to remember what Amalek did to us, and we are commanded to wage war against them until we blot out their memory. We become the instruments through which God wages this eternal battle.

If we read the passage from Shemot through this lens, the meaning of God's war against Amalek is clear - God has decreed that the nation of Amalek must be destroyed. But the meaning is much less clear if we read the passage from Shemot on its own. Perhaps this war against Amalek is more theological in nature; perhaps it is a war against what Amalek stands for, namely evil. Rashi comments on the shortened forms of God's name and the word for throne found in the verse, "For a hand is on the throne (keis) of God (y-h), a war for God against Amalek" (Shemot, 17:16). According to Rashi, "God has sworn that neither the divine name nor the divine throne will be whole until the seed of Amalek is destroyed." While Rashi understands this as referring to the actual nation of Amalek, his comment reads quite powerfully as a reference to the idea of Amalek, the zekher Amalek (see Hirsch), the idea of evil. God's name - the expression of God in the world - and God's throne - the recognition of God by all people - can never be complete as long as evil exists in the world. Consistent with this, Rabbi Yehoshua in Mechilta states that God's war against Amalek only begins at that future time when God will sit on the divine throne. For R. Yehoshua, the passage in Shemot refers to a war in future messianic times, a time when evil will be eradicated from the world.

Pronounced differences also exist between the commands related to memory in the two passages. In Shemot, the writing in a scroll - possibly the Torah but quite possibly a war scroll or the like (see Ibn Ezra) - is not done for the sake of the people or for future generations, but to be read in the ears of Yehoshua. And rather than the events of the war itself, it is the theological message that God will blot out the memory of Amalek which is to be written. In contrast, in Devarim there is no scroll and no theological message. Instead, there is an exhortation to the entire people that they remember the events of the war and that they blot out the memory of Amalek.

The differences between these two passages open up a number of interpretative possibilities as to the nature and purpose of this remembering, and these are reflected in the ways Rishonim frame the mitzvah to remember Amalek. Rambam, Tosafot, and Ramban all define this mitzvah differently, and their readings can be seen as different ways of resolving the tension between the passages in Shemot and Devarim.

Rambam states that the mitzvah is "to remember what Amalek did to us...that we should say this at all times, and that we should stir people up with words in order to wage war against the nation, that we should call upon people to hate them, so that the matter not be forgotten or the hatred against them weakened or decreased in people over the course of time" (Book of Mitzvot, Positive Mitzvah 189). For Rambam, the mitzvah to remember is fully directed towards the mitzvah to go to war against Amalek. It would seem that it is a mitzvah for the nation, not for individuals. As a people, we are to keep the memory alive to fuel our passion and move us to wage war against Amalek when the opportunity presents itself. This framing closely tracks the passage in Devarim, which places the command to wage war against Amalek between the command to remember and the command to not forget: "Remember what Amalek did ... When the Lord gives you respite from all your enemies ... you shall surely blot out the memory of Amalek; do not forget." The passage in Shemot, with its reference to a scroll and a theological message, is bracketed. Rambam's explanation finds support from the Sifrei, which states that the mitzvah is one of verbal declaration connected to casting fear in the hearts of the enemies.

In contrast, Tosafot does not connect the mitzvah to waging war. For Tosafot (Megilah (17b), s.v. Kol), the mitzvah is to perform a ritual recitation of the Biblical verses from the Torah scroll: the reading of Parashat Zakhor that we do every year prior to Purim. This approach interprets the mitzvah to remember, which appears in Devarim, through the lens of the writing in a scroll, which appears in Shemot. Tosafot's position finds support in a passage in Megillah (18a) which connects the rabbinic mitzvah of reading the megillah from a scroll to the verse of writing the memory of Amalek in a scroll, indicating that, in the latter case, the mitzvah is also the ritual recitation of verses from a scroll. For Tosafot, the mitzvah is to memorialize rather than to remember, and this is done through a ritual. The goal is not to wage war; it is to preserve sacred history and to place it in the ears of the people in a way that is real and concrete. The memorialization itself is the mitzvah.

Ramban gives a third framing of this mitzvah. For Ramban, the mitzvah is not a war cry or an act of memorializing. It is Talmud Torah. It is a mitzvah to reflect on the theological messages of the narrative of Amalek. Ramban's approach emerges from his analysis of the mitzvah to remember what God did to Miriam when she spoke against Moshe. He states that the purpose of that mitzvah is to learn from those events the severity of the sin of lashon harah and to act accordingly, avoiding evil speech at all times. Ramban writes, "In the same fashion we were commanded regarding remembering what Amalek did to us - so that we should know that it was not for naught that God commanded us to wipe out their name" (Mitzvot that Rambam Omitted, Positive Mitzvah 7). Ramban's approach is supported by Sifra (Behalotecha on Vayikra 26:3), which describes the mitzvah to remember Amalek as a mitzvah to be shoneh bi'ficha, to teach out loud. The verb shoneh, to teach, most obviously echoes the verse from Shema, "vi'shinantem li'vanekha," "and you shall recite them [the words of Torah] to your children," and frames this as a mitzvah of teaching and learning Torah. Moreover, this Sifra opens its discussion with the statement that it is not sufficient to perform the mitzvot; we must also be "ameilim ba'Torah," "toil in our understanding of the Torah." The mitzvah to remember, for Ramban and Sifra, is to understand what lies behind the mitzvah, why God commanded us to destroy Amalek.

Ramban's approach emerges from a parallel reading of the passages in Shemot and in Devarim. In Shemot, the Torah directs our attention to the theological meaning of this war against Amalek, a war that God has undertaken. In Devarim, the emphasis is practical and action based: we are to blot out their memory. Ramban combines the two: we are commanded to remember and reflect on the theological meaning (Shemot) of the mitzvah to wage war against Amalek (Devarim). We do not remember to stir up our passions, and we do not to memorialize for its own sake, but we remember in order to understand.

As a community, we are punctilious in observing Tosafot's ritual memorializing of the story in the form of our annual recitation of Parashat Zakhor. We have simultaneously bracketed Rambam's framing of the mitzvah for the simple reason that we are no longer in a position to actually wage war against Amalek. We need to turn our attention to how to better fulfill the mitzvah as understood by Ramban. The mitzvah to destroy Amalek presents profound theological questions and challenges, many of them residing in the gap between God's war against Amalek in Shemot and the people's war against Amalek in Devarim. The mitzvah to remember Amalek is the parsing of this gap.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Thought on the Parasha

Feel free to download and print the Parashat Bo sheet and share it with your friends and family.

Speaking is Believing

The first mitzvah that the Children of Israel are given is that of sanctifying the new moon. "HaChodesh hazeh lachem rosh chadashim," "this month, the month of Nissan, shall be for you the first of the months." Why of all mitzvot was this one given first? What is it about this mitzvah that embodies the message of redemption and signifies what it means to be a free people?

Identifying Nissan as the first month makes a profound theological statement. From the perspective of the natural agricultural cycle, the year begins in Tishrei, the month that marks the beginning of fall and the onset of tilling and planting. It is for this reason that Rosh HaShana occurs on Tishrei and that the Torah constantly refers to Tishrei as the end and beginning of the yearly cycle. To live a life defined by the agricultural calendar, however, is to live a life dictated by the laws of nature and nothing more. It is to live a cyclical existence: people are born, reproduce, and die; the world keeps spinning; and the cycle goes round and round. "One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever." Any change is non-disruptive and predictable. Such a world, then, is ultimately unchanging and static. Such a world does not progress, and such a life serves no higher purpose. In such a world, slaves are never freed and miracles never occur.

To declare that Nissan - the month of redemption - shall be the first month is to assert that we do not live in a world governed only by nature. With the exodus comes a reordering of our time and a reorienting of our view of the world and our outlook on existence. Yes, this is a natural world with seasonal cycles, but it is also a world of history. It is a world in which radical, disruptive change can occur. It is world where God plays a role, breaking through the natural order, wreaking plagues, creating miracles, freeing an enslaved people, and bringing them to Mount Sinai and the Promised Land. To live in such a world is to live a life of messianic promise; it is to live a life of purpose and meaning.

But this first mitzvah goes even further: according to Hazal's understanding, it not only demands that Nissan to be identified as the first of the months, but that we be partners in the process. It tasks us with establishing when the month begins on the basis of observing the new moon. "This month is for you," says the verse. "Kazeh re'eh vi'kadesh," explains the Talmud, "you must see the new moon, and you must sanctify it." This mitzvah, then, presents a world in which we as a people are masters of our own destiny.

While we cannot violate the laws of nature, we do not have to live under their tyranny. The moon waxes and wanes every month, but we decide how to relate to it. The beginning of the month is not defined by the cosmological reality of the position of the moon but by our observation and recognition of it, by the significance we give it. And if we declare the month to begin on a day other than when the new moon appears, that day will nevertheless be recognized as the first of the month.

We create the sanctity of the month and the holidays that occur in it. We see; we sanctify. Through this, we reject determinism. We declare that we are free agents. We declare that we shape our existence and define our world. This is what freedom is all about. We leave a world where others define our existence - dictating what we do, where we eat, and where we sleep - and we enter a world in which we are the masters of our time, a world in which we have the opportunity - but also the weighty responsibility - to dream and plan, to decide what we will do today, and to determine the future direction of our lives.

The exodus from Egypt came from God and through miracles, but to live a free life, our ongoing exodus must come from within. With this mitzvah God is handing the responsibility over to us. God is saying, from here on in, kazeh re'eh vi'kadesh, when you see the natural world you must sanctify it. It is upon you to give it significance. It is up to you to break through the repetitious sameness of existence, to give your life direction and purpose, and to make it holy.

According to Sefat Emet:

For at the time of redemption it was made evident that God was the life-force of all, and ... that this is the source of the ongoing renewal of the natural order, as it is written: "God renews every day, constantly, the acts of creation." However, one who forgets this is defined by the natural order, as it is written: "There is nothing new under the sun." But one who cleaves to the inner reality, to the life-force of God, constantly experiences renewal. This is what is meant, "This month," this renewal [chodesh/chadash], is yours. For each person of Israel can stir up this power of renewal through faith, by it being clear in his heart that all is from God (Sefat Emet, Bo, 5631).

Do we live in a world of nature, where nothing is new and God is nowhere to be found? Or do we live in a world suffused with God's presence, filled with dynamism, life-force, and possibility? The choice, says Sefat Emet, is ours. If we choose to see God in the world, we will find it filled with opportunity and possibility, and this vision will be nurtured and reinforced, becoming our reality. To truly achieve this, however, it is not just a question of how we see but also how we speak.

This week's parasha begins and ends by stressing the importance of the stories that we tell and their role in shaping our reality. "Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart ... so that I may perform these signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord" (10:1-2). The miracles, at least according to these verses, serve no other purpose than for us to relate them in stories that will shape the way we look at the world and the way we see God's presence therein.

And so it is at the end of the parasha: "On that day tell your son, 'I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt'" (13:8). And similarly, "In days to come, when your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' say to him, 'With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery'" (13:14). Returning to Sefat Emet:

For behold, this is the power of speech that was given to the Children of Israel, and it is through this that they sanctify the months and the holidays, when the court says: mekudash haChodesh, the new month is sanctified. It was at the time of the exodus that the Children of Israel merited the covenant of speech. And this is the mitzvah of pesach: peh (a mouth) sach (that speaks). And "In order that you may tell" (10:1) ... For the power of the mouth is to bring renewal ... and this is what is meant by haChodesh hazeh lachem, this month-this making new - is yours (Sefat Emet, Bo, 5656).

After all the miracles are done we will return to living in a world in which miracles are not evident, where what we see most obviously before our eyes is nature, not God. It will be our responsibility to look at this world, at our present and past, and see possibility, to see purpose, to see God. Kazeh re'eh vi'kadesh. Through our words we sanctify the month, and through our words and the stories we tell, we can and we must shape and sanctify our world.

Shabbat Shalom!