Friday, August 3, 2012

Vaetchanan

For the first time in my life I moved into a home where the mezuzahs were already affixed to the doorposts. Last week we moved our offices into 430 North Broadway where we will be sharing space with Jericho Jewish Center. In the previous office space we placed the mezuzahs on the doorways. We did the same at the Brookville Reformed Church after Reverend Ramirez graciously allowed us to do so. But now there was no need to ask permission. There was no need to purchase mezuzahs to place on our office doors. They were already there. They adorn every doorpost.

Every house, every apartment, every office I ever moved into, this task fell on me. Even at the 92nd Street Y I had to purchase a mezuzah to place on my own office door. Here they were provided. Here others performed this mitzvah for us. Even though it was an extraordinary measure of friendship that we were allowed to affix a mezuzah in the church’s social hall, here at 430 North Broadway the plethora of mezuzahs means something very different.

It means that we share something in common. These mezuzahs serve as an immediate sign that we are among friends.

This week’s Torah portion, Vaetchanan, contains the words of the Shema and its first paragraph’s concluding words: “Inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:8) Our tradition interprets these words literally. Thus these words are written on a small piece of parchment and placed inside the mezuzah. For millennia this commandment has been observed in this manner. We write the commandment on a parchment and place them on our doorposts and even our gates.
I imagine, especially in ancient times, when Jews traveled far from their homes the mezuzah was a welcome sign. It meant that a traveler could find friends through such a doorway. It means the same today. The Jewish population is at best 14 million. It may feel like more living in our small corner of Long Island but we are not so numerous. We are but a tiny fraction of the world’s population. Thus we require more solidarity. We require more kinship. We don’t have to agree with every Jew (I certainly don’t) but we must stand together as friends.
Sometimes people confuse friendship with agreement. But friendship is at its best not about agreement or flattery but instead about care and concern. We certainly have our differences with our Conservative brethren. There is much in the way that we pray and especially the way that we view innovation and change that separates us, but I would like to believe that we share more in common. Such should be the nature of our emerging friendship with the Jericho Jewish Center.

The mezuzah is a sign of this friendship. It is a sign of a friendship that spans millennia. I know that they were affixed to Jericho Jewish Center’s doors decades ago in fulfillment of the mitzvah contained in the Torah portion. I know then that no one imagined that they would one day serve as welcome for a Reform congregation. Nonetheless that is the purpose they fulfilled this week. I found these mezuzahs most welcoming. May these mezuzahs continue to remind us of the importance of our emerging friendship.
This week I am the traveler who wandered upon a welcome doorway.

And, on another note about friendship, my teacher, Rabbi Donniel Hartman, wrote an interesting article about Governor Mitt Romney’s recent visit to Israel. Rabbi Hartman is an Israeli and so I believe offers helpful insights. I offer his concluding remarks for your consideration. He writes:
As a friend, I am not in need of an echo, nor do I find solace in an unconditional cheering squad. I value my freedom and my right to pursue a policy that others may think is wrong. From my friends, however, I yearn for and desperately need honesty. Don’t tell me only what you think I want to hear, tell me what you think I need to hear. As a true friend, I welcome the times that you push and cajole, for I know that you have my best interests at heart. 
Most importantly, I yearn for your involvement. When honesty is not possible, friendship becomes a formality, carted out at ceremonial moments, a mere testimony to a true feeling that has long passed. We face many critical decisions in the years ahead, decisions that will impact the nature and future direction of our country and at times even its existence. The path forward is often ambiguous, uncertain, and fraught with dangers regardless of which option we choose. We need a friend who will talk to us honestly. We need a friend who will give us the strength to take risks. We need a friend to help us bring out the best of who we want to be in the midst of a reality which often pulls us in the opposite direction.
You can find Rabbi Hartman’s complete article at this link.

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