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  • Hillels of Georgia

Jesse Steinman - 6/5/2020

I want to begin by saying Shabbat Shalom and thank you all for taking some time out of your day to prepare your Shabbat with words of Torah. Shabbat is seemingly the antithesis to what we’re experiencing in our country right now. And how can we reconcile that? Shabbat is the day of rest, a day we retract from the busyness of the world to focus on our spiritual connection with our family, friends and God. Simultaneously it is important we do not rest, for the need for action and activism in today’s current fight against systematic racial injustice and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement is too great. How can we reconcile these opposites? Both are valid and important.

This weeks parsha is Nasoh. It’s a classic Dvarim parsha. It begins with describing the tasks various Israelite tribes needed to do for the upkeep of the Tabernacle. It also has a long section dedicated to the complex system of sacrifices for the Tabernacle. However, sandwiched between these two parts is a recognizable section. It is a prayer that God commands Moses to tell Aaron and his sons who will then bless the people of Israel. It is a prayer of protection often said by parents to their kids before Shabbat. It is also Birkat Cohanim, the prayer that the descendants of Aaron say during services to this day. The prayer translates into this: The Lord bless you and protect you. The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you. The Lord bestow his favor upon you and grant you peace!”

I was reading up on interpretations of this quote, and I found one that I liked that I will share with you. This isn’t Rashi or Rambam, it’s just a Canadian Chabad rabbi’s article, but I still liked the message. The article says how this is an arc, a curve that represents the holy connection between God and his people. The first part is parental. God is blessing us and protecting us. We are God’s subjects, and God is here for our protection. The second part is that of covenantal partnership. God deals kindly and graciously with us, just like we are expected to be good and follow these commandments. The third part empowers us as independent people. He bestows, gives us his favor and grants us peace. The prayer goes from protection to independence. It makes sense it is popular with parents and children, wishing them protection that leads to their ultimate independence. 

But taking it in the context of today, what can we learn? As Jews entering into Shabbat, it is important to remember that God is here to protect us, and we are here to deal with God. Tell your family you love them at the dinner table today. Make a list of things you’re grateful for that you were born into. This is God bless you and protecting you from the start of life and until your end. Shabbat is a time for the first two parts of this curve. It is a time to recognize our place and our protection and observing our end of the agreement. As we observe the agreement though of what it means to be a Jew, we extend to the third part that is relevant today and that is independence. 

As Jews, we are independent in our action. God can’t force us to do anything and all God has done is given us the green light. We must take this green light and run. While we focus on the two parts of this curve during shabbat, the latter is what we will take into next week. Embracing our independence and turning that independence into action. If we have God’s protection and blessing, and we are partners with God as Jews. We should not be afraid to stick up for what we believe is right. In order for the world to be the best place, it is up to us to act and God knows this. God is expecting us to act so as we move into next week let us continue listening to the Black community and ensuring that we create a country where all Black lives matter. 

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