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Why Should I Belong?

In last week’s Torah portion, Kedoshim, we heard what I believe to be one of the most important commandments in the Jewish tradition, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

I thought that, this morning, I would take just a few moments to explain why I believe that this commandment- to be holy- is one of the most compelling reasons to belong to a Jewish community today.

We live in a world where each of us is told that we are special. This idea- the value of every individual person- is a deeply Jewish one. However, where our modern world and the Jewish Tradition divide is that in our secular lives, our innate specialness is both the beginning and the ending of the equation, and, all too often, our inner sense of value is transformed into entitlement. In our secular world, our personal value means that we DESERVE things- attention, adulation, etc. In the secular world, our inner value points us inward, helping us to be unconcerned about and blind to the lives and struggles of others.

In the Jewish world, our belief that each individual is valuable points us outward. If I am created in the image of God, so too is everyone that I meet and interact with. Our tradition teaches me that as a person, I am valuable and special and, as a Jew, I am COMMANDED to be more than that.

Judaism has within it the antidote to the self-centeredness that pervades so much of our secular world. In our Jewish tradition, our individual value is not a singular idea; instead, it is inextricably linked with the commandment to be holy and to bring holiness into our world. Belonging to a Jewish community means that we are not content to live neutral lives. Committing to Jewish lives and Jewish families means that we have taken up the responsibility to do better, to live more generously, to treat others more respectfully, and to honor this world more sincerely than we could have otherwise done.

“But couldn’t we,” you might be thinking, “do this- live in a holy way- as individuals? Why does striving toward holiness require us to belong to a community?”

Rejecting the status quo and striving toward holiness are not easy tasks. In fact, it is a goal that demands that we confront and seek to change so many parts of our lives and world. Can each of us stand as individuals against the forces of moral complacency, injustice, etc.? The truthful answer is, possibly. Yes, there are some incomparable individuals who have successfully confronted evils all on their own. But, there have also been hundreds of generations of Jewish families that have clung to the support and sustenance that comes from belonging to a community of people who are also striving to do better and to be better.

Every member of TBC has a story that explains why they chose to join our synagogue and community. And, while each of these stories may appear to be unique, I would suggest that underneath all of them, the reason our TBC families chose to belong is that they understand the value that comes from striving for meaning, for inspiration, and for holiness within the strength and support of a community of people with the same goals.

We live in a world and in a time that is both terrifying and wonderful simultaneously. Each of us could have been content to live lives that simply balance along the boundary between the bad and the good, but instead, we have chosen to strive for more, to live in such a way that we can say that because of each of us, there is a little bit more holiness and a little more goodness in the world.

Thank you for belonging to and supporting our community - a group of people who share a deeply held drive to do better and be better. Thank you for choosing to support our synagogue- an organization that is dedicated to instilling that drive toward holiness in the minds and hearts of our children. Thank you for understanding that one of the most significant ways to strive toward holiness is by supporting and loving other people.

I’ll conclude this morning with a quote from the remarkable theologian, scholar, and rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, who wrote, “The Jew does not stand alone before God; it is as a member of the community that he stands before God. Our relationship to God is not as an I to a Thou, but as a We to a Thou.”

Our community is the remarkable “we” in Heschel’s equation, and together, we can do remarkable things.

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