By Rabbi Haim Shalom
This week, we are, once again, standing at Sinai about to enter into our eternal covenant. But more than the thunder and lightning of Sinai and the covenant with the Eternal, I am always moved in this week’s parasha by a verse that highlights our covenant with each other.
In the middle of our portion, before we even get to the ten commandments, a seemingly innocuous verse holds a wonderful secret that Rashi helps us understand. Chapter 19 of Exodus starts with these two verses:
“In the third month after the children of Israel left the land of Egypt, on that day, they came to the Sinai desert. And they traveled from Rephidim and they came to the Sinai Desert and the encamped in the desert, and Israel encamped opposite the mountain.”
Rashi notices that we have a number of verbs in the plural (they came, they traveled, they came, they encamped), but that the second verse finishes with a singular verb (with the subject simply Israel, rather than the children of Israel). Rashi comments on this discrepancy:
Rashi understands the use of the singular for the last verb to be telling us that as we encamped opposite Mount Sinai, we were as one person with one heart. We weren’t fighting, we were all together. What a crazy concept – the whole Jewish people working together in unison! And it is important to remember, that this is BEFORE we receive Torah – it is not our religion that brings us together, but our peoplehood. We may be completely different from each other, from different places, with different outlooks, and with different practices, but we are family, so Rashi tells us.
I was reminded that we are all family despite our differences of opinion when I was running a program that brought together a group of Ethiopian Israeli women with members of our synagogue and the children of both groups. One of these Ethiopian women could not understand why our Rabbinical intern, a female student from HUC-JIR was wearing a kippah. Never had she seen such a thing. It was hard for her to hear the explanation that in our community, Men and Women had equal access to the tradition and the various customs of that tradition. But, though she still didn’t think that this was her kind of Judaism, it didn’t really matter – her son was having a wonderful time coloring and sticking with the kids from our synagogue.
We weren’t quite as one person with one heart, but we were together – brought together by the wonderful Keren B’Kavod – the social justice wing of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, which would not be possible without the support of ARZA in the World Zionist Congress.
Through this support, our congregation can carry on its mission of Social Justice and Creative Judaism in the heart of Jerusalem – something which would be completely impossible without the hard work of the North American Reform and Reconstructionist Movements, and their allies. And so I am extremely grateful to you – the Reform Jews of America who Voted Reform in the last WZO elections.
It is thanks to you that Israeli families desperate for egalitarian options are able to find a synagogue that will allow a boy’s mother to stand next to her son as he reads from the Torah.
It is thanks to you that more and more young Israeli women will enjoy a Bat Mitzvah that is equal in all regards to the Bar Mitzvah of their brother.
It is thanks to you that trans women in Jerusalem can feel at home in a synagogue.
It is thanks to you that we can continue to support the various 12 step programs that use our facility to help people on their way out of the crushing hold of addiction.
It is thanks to you that I, as the rabbi of this congregation can represent my congregants in a solidarity mission along with other Reform rabbis to the burnt-out mosque in a neighboring suburb of Jerusalem, vandalized by thugs pretending to act in the name of Judaism.
It is thanks to you that a Judaism which understands that we are all created B’tzelem Elohim – in the image of God, has a voice in Jerusalem.
You are changing the face of Israel for the better.
The WZO elections allow all of the Jewish people to come together “as one person” (if not with one heart) to decide together how we want our shared enterprise called the State of Israel to look.
And so – if you would like your values to continue to be represented in Israel, if you would like Israel to remain a Jewish and democratic country, where all types of Judaism have a home, it is vital that you Vote Reform once more, to make sure our Movement is able to continue helping us here build the Israel we all dream of.
Rabbi Haim Shalom is the Rabbi of Kehillat Mevakshei Derech, a Progressive Congregation in Jerusalem. Born in the United Kingdom, he was encouraged to move to Israel following his participation in the Reform Movement affiliated year program, Shnat Netzer, which also started him on his journey to serious Jewish learning and the Rabbinate.