11 September 2009
22 Elul 5769
How can we educate, initiate, inspire the next generation of the Jewish People to assume its place as a link in the chain of Jewish history and to keep Judaism alive and relevant for itself and for future generations? This challenge is one of the reasons why Gann Academy exists and is also the challenge that Moshe faces during the entire Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy). In this final book of the Torah, Moshe offers his dramatic parting words to B’nei Yisrael, who stand on the banks of the Jordan River preparing to enter the Land of Israel. It is this generation of Israelites who have the opportunity and responsibility to live out their people’s relationship with God when they enter the Land of Israel; yet, most of this generation have not themselves experienced redemption from Egypt nor received the Torah at Mount Sinai (after 40 years of wandering in the desert, the first generation has died off).
This week’s double parsha (Torah portion), Nitzavim-Vayelech, opens with a reaffirmation of the brit (covenant) that was made initially at Mount Sinai: “You stand here this day, all of you, before the Lord your God…to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is concluding with you this day…And I am making this covenant and this oath not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not here with us this day.” (Devarim 29:9-14)
As we begin this school year, Gann’s Bar Mitzvah (13th) year, we can find in these few lines of masterful rhetoric at least three essential principles of Judaism and Jewish education. First, Moshe speaks to “you…this day.” The Jewish learning and living that we, our children, and our students experience, must speak to us and speak to them. Judaism (and high school education) needs to be relevant, compelling, and inspiring in the here and now.
Second and, perhaps, paradoxically, is the powerful message of “not with you alone.” We need to believe and to convey, on both intellectual and emotional levels, that we are part of something much larger than ourselves. This sense itself can generate wonder, meaning, and personal relevance. But, in truth, it should also inspire yir’ah (awe and reverence) for and commitment to the generations who have come before us, the history of the Jewish people, and the future that lies ahead.
Third, Moshe affirms a central theme of the Torah and of Judaism – the notion of brit (covenant) that we renew, re-enter, reaffirm this day, every day. Even in our modern world that values freedoms, rights, and individualism, we need to reclaim a covenantal consciousness. Brit implies that we cannot realize our full potential living only as individuals in the world. Brit is also much more than continuity for continuity’s sake. We (“you…this day”) can live most fully when we live in relationship – with God, Torah, and the Jewish People, and with family and community as well. These relationships and the experience of brit generate responsibilities and obligations, and, in them, we can find our greatest sources of meaning, fulfillment, and self-actualization.
This week our students reentered and reaffirmed their relationships – with friends, teachers, their studies, our community, and with core pillars of our educational mission and the Jewish tradition. We began the week by learning texts together as a community, and we conclude the week by living, celebrating, and experiencing sacred Jewish time together on our all-school Shabbaton. May this be the start to a year full of learning, experiences, and relationships that speak to us, demand commitment from us, and, ultimately, transform us.
Rabbi Marc Baker