Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higiyanu laz'man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
This is an approximate translation of the Hebrew words, but I like to think of it as a sort of affirmation of being in the right place at the right time with the right people. Thank you, God, for bringing us to this moment. This is also how I tend to think of deja vu, by the way – a confirmation of being in the right moment.
The Torah reading this week is Mishpatim, from Exodus, and it is placed just after Moses has received the ten commandments on Mt Sinai. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!
When I first signed up for this dvar Torah, I wanted to talk about something scholarly, like theories of biblical authorship as they apply to this parsha… or maybe I could say something about Mt Sinai versus Mt Horeb in Torah, or the nature of covenants in ancient Judea, or the Biblical context of our relationship with God versus our relationship with other humans. Maybe I could try to impress everyone with my academic chops? If I were really on top of things, I could even give a dvar Torah about Mishpatim and modern-day reparations.
This might be a result of being a convert or it might just be about my personality, but I want to be a good member of the Hav. I want to contribute to the community in helpful ways, and I want to be someone who can be counted on to keep the scholastic level high in this community. I don’t want to hold people back, and I don’t want to be a drain on our resources. Havurat Shalom is a very intellectually rigorous and thoughtful community, and I want to fit in.
Ultimately, however, I think the thing I need to talk with everyone about right now is community. Mishpatim is a series of legal strictures and codes and requirements, a long and perhaps random-seeming patchwork of how we humans need to treat each other in the eyes of God in order to maintain our relationships with each other and our covenant with God. It’s an establishment of community norms from a particular moment in Jewish history. A lot of these things are very hard to look at in the modern era – particularly the first part, which is literally about slavery. I wanted to have really thoughtful commentary on the meaning of these verses now, for us, in this moment.
In terms of community and being honest with my community, however, I am here this week, at the end of a really hard week of sleep deprivation and expensive repairs to my home and the first layoff my husband and I have ever experienced, and I am not sure I’m able to bring a high level of academic discourse to you now.
What I can talk about, though, is community in general. What I want to talk with you about, very briefly, is our relationship, together. That, also, is about Mishpatim and how we interact, today.
Mishpatim has a lot about slavery, capital punishment, ox goring, thievery, etc. From a certain point of view, it’s mostly a long list of wrongs people might do to each other and how to punish wrongs done. What I think is interesting, though, is that when I read this portion of Torah, it has a lot of stuff we now avoid even potentially touching. We have built a lot of fences around the issues, here. We, as a community, avoid putting people to death. We don’t punish ox goring because we don’t have oxen in Somerville (so far as I’m aware). I also don’t see anything about how to establish zoom norms in Mishpatim, for that matter.
As a community, we have continued to adapt and grow together, and some of this reading is so hard because it shows a snapshot of where things were, at an earlier point in time in Jewish history. Where we’ve grown from, what we’ve grown beyond. How we’ve grown together, as a people, in order to form this community, at this time, in this place.
What I read in layers of Mishpatim is a shared establishment of agreements, a shared understanding of community, and shared investment in each other. My modern interpretation of that is the overarching Jewish value of community.
We are hybrid for the service today because we want to keep our community agreements with each other and also want to offer accessibility in keeping with our shared community goals. We won’t always get things right, but being on zoom for this means that my parents-in-law and some of my far-flung friends can attend who wouldn’t normally be able to. Also being outside for the earlier portion of the service meets the needs of other members of our community. We are negotiating this space together, in this place, and at this time.
I really value that, and I am so excited to grow and change together with this community. I said shehecheyanu at the beginning of this dvar Torah with use of male words for God because that’s how I memorized it years ago, but one thing I’m excited about learning from the community here is how to say it with other gendered words. I will be changed by this community, and grow, just as I will change it.
I don’t have a grand ending for my dvar Torah, particularly at my current levels of sleep dep, but I want to put these thoughts out there in the community. I want to ask if anyone here had thoughts about how this community will grow and change, and how we might be changed by each other.