Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Journey to The Mountain Top ©

A Journey to The Mountain Top ©

Rabbi David Baum, Congregation Shaarei Kodesh,
Parashat Nitzavim-Veyelech, 2013/5773
I want to begin by telling you a story of something that happened to me, and might have happened to you:
I was at a conference and a man came up to me, a man I had not recognized, and he started talking to me, but not like a stranger, like someone who knew me.  He asked me how my family was doing, how my job was going, how life in Boca Raton was, very specific questions, but I had no idea who this gentlemen was!  Finally, after 10 minutes of conversation, I summoned up the courage to ask him:  how do I know you?  How do you know so much about me but I don’t know you from Adam!  First he said, your name tag says your name and what city you are from, and second, we have met before, at Sinai. 
And the man walked away. 
Sinai, when the Jewish people received the Torah and in turn their destiny, is the transformative event of our people’s history.  That one event not only obligated the generation who experienced it to become part of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, but all future generations, and we see a reminder of this in our parashah this week:
9 You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, 10your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer— 11to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; 12to the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your God, as He promised you and as He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 13 I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, 14but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day.
Moses also reinforces the idea that Sinai wasn’t an event that just happened to their parents, because the people standing in front of him were their children, but also their children who are not yet born, as the midrash states,

and [also] with those who are not here: also with future generations. — [Tanchuma 3]”

Let me ask you something, is that fair?  Why should I be bound by the oaths that my great great-grandparents took?  If someone came to me saying that my ancestor owed them money, would I pay it? 
Perhaps this is why Moses gives this message again and expands on it.  Because this message is different. 
It’s interesting that Moshe begins by saying ‘all of you’ and then lists everyone, and that’s why it’s different. 
It is more inclusive.  We see here that Moses makes a point to include everyone, “your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer”
Why mention woodchopper and water drawer, and everyone in between?   Because these occupations are menial – they aren’t doctors and lawyers, they are the people who do the work that keeps us going and yet we don’t think about.  What is Moses saying – yes, even them, those who you might think are beneath you, and even the stranger in your midst – they are part of this covenant!  God loves them as much as God loves you. 
This week a very special event occurred, and no, I’m not talking about the VMA’s, but the anniversary of one of the greatest moments in the history of the United States – the 50th Anniversary of the I Have A Dream Speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 
Dr. King was a great man.  He was his generation’s Moses, and both had something in common – they were attempting to leave something to their people that would long outlive both themselves and the people who heard the speech!  They were attempting to bring future generations into their covenant. 
Moses may have started off as reluctant leader, making excuse after excuse as to why he was the wrong person for the job, but he grew into an almost super human force.  He spoke truth to power and was the only human who could know God, face to face, panim el panim.  But Moses, like Dr. King, could not see the true realization of his dream. 
What does it mean to ‘have a dream’ or to be a dreamer? 
We Jews are famous dreamers, and there is a famous midrash that I want to share with you to highlight this attribute: 
In the book of Psalms we celebrate the dreamers, 
"A Song of Ascents. When God brings about the return to Zion, we were like dreamers. Then our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongues with joyous song. (Psalms 126:1-2). "The verb tense is confusing. It is a vision of the future that references the past. How timely!
Rabbi David Seth Kirschner, a colleague and friend commented on this line:
“Dreamers are people that use their past to better shape their future. Dreamers are influenced by challenge and adversity and know the road ahead is paved by the steps in the road already traveled. Dreamers hope and aspire for something better but, they learn best from their own encounters.”
And I would add, dreamers care more about the future than even the present.  They work so hard because they want to leave a better world for their grandchildren – they want their children to be part of their covenant. 
In this week’s parashah, Moses stood in front of his people giving them words of legacy, words that would stay with them on their journeys in life. 
When you read the “I have a dream speech”, you realize that Dr. King was a dreamer – he cared more about the future than his own life!  He spoke about a time when white children and black children in the Deep South would hold hands in solidarity.  This was a time when they were not allowed to drink out of the same water fountains!  When Jews and Gentiles would look at each other as brothers and sisters, hardly the world of the early 60’s!
Moses and Dr. King and so many other prophets teach us how to be dreamers.
The speech that Moses gave in our parashah was on the last day of his life, and he knew it was.  Dr. King also gave a speech shortly before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in support of African American garbage men on strike – looking for equal pay and equal rights, the woodchopper to water drawer of their day, and as you read the speech titled, I’ve Been To the Mountain top, you almost wonder, did he know? 
In his speech, he spoke about the times when he was almost assassinated –one time he was stabbed and the knife was once inch from his heart, and had he sneezed, he would have died.  So maybe he did know.  He ended the speech with these words:



“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! 
They both fought for the people for the sake of God.  They both fought injustice whenever and wherever it may be.

On this Labor Day, let us remember that equality of opportunity for all, including in work, was a big part of King’s legacy.  Let us remember that all of us are part of the Moses’ and King’s covenant.  Let us remember that we are all God's children - black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, and let us expand the list to include women, people of all religions, straight or gay, all races and creeds. 

All of us standing here today and those who come after us have the right to live a life of dignity and equality in these United States.  


(For those looking for a Text study on Dr. King's I have A Dream Speech, please visit Hillel's website - click here for their text study).