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Rabbi's Blog

08/09/2016 08:58:03 AM


Drasha Parshat Matot-Masei

 August 6th 2016

Friends,members and fellow Americans, it is with humility, determination and boundless confidence in this community, that I formally accept your nomination for Rabbi of the Young Israel of Sharon.  I survived the primaries, the Sharon National Convention and even the big vote. And now I stand before for you, for the first time, serving as your Rabbi.

This is a special moment for our shul and a special moment in my life. As I stand here, I am overcome by two primary emotions—gratitude and excitement. Gratitude to Rabbi Sendor for his extraordinary spiritual leadership of this kehilla. Gratitude to each and every one of you—because everyone contributed, in one way or another, to positioning the shul for a strong transition. And gratitude to Hashem for signaling to me that it was time to return home to Boston to serve this special community.

And I also feel excitement. I see in you and feel it myself. A sense of newness. Like the air is brimming with possibilities for what we can do together. There is a future, a bright future for this community and this shul. It is in our hands to mold, one minyan at a time, one meeting a time, one email at a time.  So many of the raw ingredients for a flourishing Modern Orthodox community are already here and it is on us to take responsibility for the blessings in our lives, and to move ourselves, our families and our community closer to our ideals.

Last week I made the long drive from Toronto to Newton, I was listening to some music and catching up with my thoughts.  There was a point on the highway—after about 200 miles of driving, when I looked up and noticed two signs, one that said New York City with an arrow pointing to the right  and another sign that said Boston with an arrow pointing to the left. As a moved my hand to put on my turn signal to shift over to the left a slight tingle went through my body. I realized that I was coming home. 14 years after leaving Boston. I am returning to a place that gave me so much joy and provided for so many memories. I am returning to a place that helped fashion my Jewish identity and my desire to serve as a Rabbi.

This feelingof coming home is a universal, primal feeling that that animates all people inone way or another. It is a feeling or desire for the familiar, for a placethat is accepting, loving and safe. But the movement of coming home is notalways so simple, so pure and so romanticized. For the Jewish people in ourparsha this morning, coming home to the promised land is anything butstraightforward. It is fraught with complexities, uncertainties and anxieties

With the promised land is in sight, the tribes of Reuven and Gad approach Moshe with the request to remain on the East Bank of the Jordan River. (Read pasuk 32:5) Moshe is devastated.The traumatic memories of the spies flood his mind.  He does not want to repeat the same ordeal again. He does not want another generation to throw away their opportunity to come home. So he tries to convince them to change their minds (read pasuk 32:6-7). But they insist. And so Moshe changes tactics. He demands that they ante up, and take a pledge to contribute to the military effort before settling the other side of the Jordan. The conditions of this pledge are repeated no less than 5 times. There are several disparities between these numerous repetitions. 

Rashi points us to a critical difference (read inside). When the leaders of Reuven and Gad make their request, they ask for space for their flock and cities for their children, in that order. When Moshe responds, he deliberately changes the order. You shall build cities for your children and pens for your livestock. They placed their material possessions ahead of their sons and daughters. And Moshe corrected them: Keep the primary primary and the secondary secondary. Build strong homes and solid institutions for your children and then tend to your investment portfolios.

Moshe is attempting to reshape their worldview, to reeducate them and shift their priorities.He grants them permission to live outside of Israel. He gives into that request,but he does so conditionally, only if they put the kids first.

It should be a truism in every shul , that the youth are one of the most important parts, but sometimes people assign higher priority to other matters. One of my priorities as your new Rabbi is to think concretely and creatively about chinuch yeladim,educating our children.

In a shiurthat I heard from my teacher, Rabbi Ahron Lichtenstein Z”TL, he explained that the mitzvah of chinuch can be understood in two distinct ways. In a narrower sense, it is preparing a child for a lifetime of religious observance. As the gemara in Masechet Sukkah 42a relates: When a child is old enough to hold a lulav, a parent must buy one for their child. Whena child learns to speak, a parent must teacher their son or daughter to say the shema. This is the first aspect of our obligation of chinuch yeladim.

In a broader sense, chinuch also has to do with shaping  the identity and personality of a child. This includes teaching a child how to relate to the world, how to be sensitive to people, how to respond to certain events, what to tolerate and what to refuse to tolerate. This second dimension of chinuch, we could call character or derecho eretz. It does not have as sharply defined lines or contours, as does the aspect of Chinuch l’mitzvot. It is the tool box that a child develops  in order to live in in a social, communal setting. It is the skill set for living life together with other people.

I believe firmly that making progress on both aspects of chinuch with our children and especially the second one requires a robust school-shul-home partnership, very much like the one shared by our warm shul, the young Israel, our unified school, the Strier Hebrew Academy and our spiritual homes environments. Don’t misunderstand me—There are other schools that complete this triad, but I am giving a primary example.

A shul is such a critical component of chinuch because it is a living, breathing community in which Torah is lived and practiced day in and day out. It is ashared space where are values come alive, it is a magical forum for ongoing inter-generational activities. It is place where children develop character, a place where they learn how to relate to other types of children of similar and different ages, backgrounds and beliefs.

I am choosing to talk about this issue on my very first Shabbat because I feel very strongly about the need for the Young Israel of Sharon to be a youth conscious shul.I feel that we need to internalize the subtle but significant message that Moshe conveys to Gad and Reuven in our Parsha this morning by switching the order of Mikneh/flock and Tapchem/children. Namely, that a precondition for living outside of Israel is putting our kids first, before everything else.

And when I say our kids—I do not just mean our biological children. Some of us have older children who don’t live in Sharon,  Someof us don’t have children of our own. But we all share in the responsibility for the chinuch yeladim of our shul’s children.

As I assume the mantel of leadership of this Kehilla HaKedosha, I am planning to place a great emphasis on our youth. I am planning, together with your partnership, to answer Moshe’s calling in this week’s parsha.

I have several ideas, from forming a bnei mitzvah club that goes beyond writing speeches, working with our new bnot sherut to reinvigorate bnei akiva and bringing  back mishmash/parent child learning—we need to learn Torah with our children. I also plan to visit the youth groups and teen minyan on a regular basis on Shabbat mornings to share a story or piece of Torah related to the Parsha.

These are just a few of my ideas, but I need your help. Please come over at Kiddush and share your ideas. Please brainstorm at your Shabbat tables and report back by sending an email on Motzei Shabbat. We will need your creativity and resourcefulness to make this vision a reality.

I know that there are other important priorities and many other project that I will be devoting my to but as C.S. Lewis once wrote-- You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get first things and second things only by putting first things first and second things second.

Please be part of this vision.

Be part of making our shul a place where youth matter.

Be part of making our shul a second home for our youth.

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784