D’var Torah for January 20, 2017

A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph

(Exodus 1:8)

This week we will be reading from Parashat Shemot. Shemot is the first Torah portion in the book of Exodus. If Genesis is the narrative of our forefathers and foremothers, then Exodus is the story of our people. It begins with slavery and degradation and ends with the emancipation of our people through the leadership and vision of God and Moses. We know this story well, and we retell it at every Passover seder.

The story begins first with the reminder of the lineage of Jacob and how his descendants grew numerous in the land of Egypt. Or as the Torah says, “but the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them.” At the same time, there arose a new Pharaoh, one who had forgotten all that Joseph had done for Egypt and especially for a previous Pharaoh.

Needless to say, given our long and often tragic history, we Jews tend to be a little nervous especially around leadership transitions. This year is no different, and yet it is at the same time. When thinking about the inauguration, I was reminded of an old joke from the 1920s, “Zaydie, Babe Ruth hit another home run today!” “Yes, but is it good for the Jews?” Even today, we are still asking the same question.

In the words of Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the Director of the Religious Action Center, who wrote in ReformJudaism.org “Today is also an encouraging day – one that invites us to reaffirm our commitment to enduring Jewish values – compassion, inclusion, and justice. It is a day that demands that we ask ourselves: What are the issues we care most passionately about? How can we stand up, get involved, and make our voices heard? It is a day that begins a new period of activism in my family, in our community, and in our nation.”

As a congregational community we are already involved in many issues from housing the homeless to LGBTQ rights. We collect food, toiletries and kosher apple juice for those in our community who are in need. Our students are engaged in a variety of mitzvah projects to help better the greater Rockland community. As your rabbi, I am participating in the Rockland Clergy for Social Justice to help fight the issues facing East Ramapo. We participate actively in interfaith work, spearheaded by Cantor Neff, to broaden the lines of dialogue between our various faith communities. We support the Center for Safety and Change, which helps abused women and works to combat all forms of abuse. We are a proud sponsor of the Martin Luther King Multi-Purpose Center in Spring Valley. And we are looking to get more involved in the burgeoning sanctuary movement to help immigrants who may be targeted by the authorities.

So, as you can see, social activism is a core part of the identity of The Reform Temple of Rockland. But some of you are wondering, what else can I do? To that end, I invite you to join me at the Religious Action Center’s Consultation on Conscience. It is taking place April 30 – May 2, 2017 in Washington D.C. I am hoping to have an RTR delegation join me. The registration is only $279.00. Just let me know you would like to register and I will give you the code to get this special rate. More information can be found at http://www.rac.org/consultation-conscience-2017-registration.

Regardless of the transition of leadership, we as a proud Jewish community can continue to have an impact locally, nationally and globally. We may not be mighty in numbers, but we are certainly mighty of commitment.

Part of the reason why Jews have been reviled throughout history is because of our steadfast belief in standing up for what is right and good. Regardless of your political affiliations, there is much good we can do together.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff