Wednesday, May 1, 2013
South Palm Beach Federation Annual Meeting Dvar Torah 2013/5773
by Rabbi David Baum
How many people have a Facebook or Twitter account? Keep your hands up. How many had one three years ago, five, eight, ten, fifteen?
Social media, through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites has revolutionized the way we connect to others. We have access to friends from high school, our neighbors, and we can follow celebrities on Twitter giving us access we could not have dreamed of just 10 years ago! It seems like a great blessing – we can connect to millions of others now more easily than ever!
But this new connectedness is not always the blessing we think it is because often times, we still have our old world tendencies in play.
Unfortunately, most of us only latch on to the people who we feel are most similar to us and who validate our own world views, and if we agree with them, if they are part of our socio-economic group, only then are they a part of our community; but this is not what the Torah teaches us.
Our double parashiot this week, Behar-Behukotai, teach us another side to how we should live in this world: together, not just with people who just like us, but others as well.
In the book of Leviticus, we have been bombarded with lessons on how to worship – the various types of sacrifices, how the priests give them, how they dress, and more. Leviticus tends to focus on the minutia of worship, that add up to the collective answer of how we should serve God.
One would think that at the end of this book, God would sum up it all up, but that’s not the message that they receive as they still hover at Mt. Sinai, about to embark on their journey to the promised land.
So what is the final message they receive?
Leave your fields alone.
In this week’s parashah, we learn about the important institutions of the Shmittah years and the Jubilee years.
Think about it, you have one opportunity to leave a lasting message, as we know, the last thing you say is often the most memorable, and this is the message that God wants to give His people?!?
Throughout the ages, our commentators have wondered, why talk about Shmitah now and why are these laws so special?
According to these laws, landowners are forbidden from farming their own lands every seventh year; they must let the land lay fallow.
Put yourself in this farmer’s shoes: Can you imagine looking at that field for a year, and not doing anything? Better yet, imagine being told, “for one year, you are not allowed to touch your financial portfolios. Nothing goes in, nothing comes out.” That feeling you have hearing those words - that is how the farmer felt.
There is a certain message that the farmer internalized, that God articulated in the Torah:
“The land is Mine; you are but stranger residents with Me.” (Leviticus 25:23)
Even though we might have a deed on the land, this land is not really ours, it is God’s land.
Shmittah is God’s last message to His people before they leave Sinai, when they owned no land – this is the type of society that I want you to build. The laws of Shmittah and the Jubilee year are perhaps the most aspirational laws of the Torah.
The laws of agriculture which we read about last week in Emor, like the laws of Peah, of leaving the corners of your field for the poor, and not picking up those crops that you dropped, gives us a certain message as well – your community isn’t just your family, or your friends, or those people your age, or those people in the same socio-economic status, it’s also others, the widows, the orphan, the stranger.
During the Shmittah year, everyone had a chance to eat, and everyone meant everyone.
God wants us to think differently about a concept – community.
When people ask me what South Palm Beach County is like I often tell them, it’s wonderful, but one way to explain the landscape is gated communities – almost everyone lives in one. Gates open and close and keep us safe, but gates also run the risk of being walls, and walls cannot be opened. When we erect barriers, we might think we are safe, but, all too often, we close ourselves off from others.
In my opinion, our Federation breaks down barriers in order to bring us together. It makes us re-think the very definition of community, connecting us with Jews who may look and be different than us; people who we would not normally run into on the street, in our gated communities, or even online.
People like those living at the JARC facility, where some members of Shaarei Kodesh live, or maybe its the senior whose kids live up north but who can see and connect with young Jews who are going to school at Donna Klein or at the preschool at the JCC, and in turn, those young people can see and connect with seniors in the community.
This parashah teaches us to challenge the idea of who is a part of our ‘community’, because it includes the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the Levite who could not own land – all of these people had no other protector but God. God teaches us, these people have other protectors also, and they are the Jewish people. This is our ultimate destiny, and I thank the Federation and all of you for fulfilling this sacred task and helping us open our eyes to the whole Jewish community, both within our gates, and outside our gates.
The Federation is the center of our community. It gives us a place to come together and fulfill the Jewish destiny together!
Since I came here just four years ago, I have been drawn closer to this place. I have seen the walls turn into open gates, and more collaboration between agencies and synagogues. The Federation has reached out to our synagogues and is now the point that brings us together. It has recognized the holy task that we perform, and we recognize the holy task that the Federation performs. The agencies have been brought together in the Create a Jewish Legacy program, outreach and teen education grants for our synagogues, including Shaarei Kodesh, and our Rabbis have been asked to speak at Young Adult Division events, and there is so much more.
So today, as a rabbi of this great community and a native South Floridian, I thank you for the holy work that you do and will continue to do in the future.
All of us have the task of reaching out and inspiring those who are not yet in our gates, those who have lived here for years but do not call this place home. Our task is to open the gates, to bring them and so many others in, to redefine community, and to fulfill the destiny put forth in our holy Torah – to be a nation of priests, and a light unto others, an Or LaGoyim, an ever lasting light that will never be extinguished and serve as a guide not just for South Palm Beach, but for the world.