Friday, January 27, 2012

Shabbat O Gram for January 27

Since I'll be away this Shabbat at a family Bar Mitzvah, let me be the first to offer a Yasher Koach to all who will be participating in this weekend's Sisterhood Shabbat. I've no doubt that it will be as great as always. Special thanks to event chairs Denise Greenman and Linda Hempel Braun and to Suzanne Stone for her d'var Torah. Plus, thanks to Stacey Essenfeld, our Sisterhood president, and all those involved in Sisterhood - and to the Men's Club for providing lunch. I look forward to hearing great things about the service when I get home.

Despite last week's ill-timed snow storm, our 5 and 6th graders (plus kids other local Conservative synagogues) enjoyed a super Shabbaton, thanks in large part to enthusiastic staff from Camp Ramah. A great time was had by all.

Since I won't be here to deliver a d'var Torah in person this week, a few comments about the portion, Bo, beginning with a story:

An elderly lady gets onto a crowded bus and stands in front of a seated young girl. Holding her hand to her chest, she says to the girl, "If you knew what I have, you would give me your seat."

The girl gets up and gives her seat to the old lady.

It's hot. The girl then takes out a fan and starts fanning herself. The woman looks up and says, "If you knew what I have, you would give me that fan." The girl gives her the fan, too.

Fifteen minutes later the woman gets up and says to the bus driver, "Stop, I want to get off here." The bus driver tells her he has to drop her at the next corner, not in the middle of the block. With her hand across her chest, she tells the driver, "If you knew what I have, you would let me off the bus right here." The bus driver pulls over and opens the door to let her out.

As she's walking out of the bus, he asks, "Madam, what is it you have?"

The woman looks at him and nonchalantly replies, "Chutzpah."

Our portion might not contain the world's first example of Chutzpah but it certainly was an example that created a significant model of behavior for future generations, and for us. How do you define Chutzpah? Well, if you live in ancient Egypt, Chutzpah is when your God orders you to purchase an animal that is also the symbol of the Egyptian god, to slaughter it in public, and then paint your doorposts with its blood. How do you think your Egyptian neighbors are likely to respond? What do you think will happen if this Exodus thing falls through? What kind of chutzpah might it take to follow through with such an act - and to have 600,000 of your closest friends and relatives do it too?

That is exactly what the Israelites did. They proved that they deserved to be free with a supreme act of courage - and premeditated insolence. They passed the Chutzpah test. To this day, every Jewish child retakes this test each year, when asked to bring pieces of very crumby unleavened bread to school during the intermediate days of Passover and then to explain to their friends and teachers why they are refraining from Ring Dings that week. It takes Chutzpah to be different.

So this portion is teaching us that the Jewish people came into being not through an act of divine salvation but through a human demonstration of Chutzpah. It takes Chutzpah to believe in simple values when the materialistic society around us worships at any number of golden calves. It takes Chutzpah - or in Heschel's words, "Spiritual Audacity" - to believe that there is meaning beyond absurdity. And it takes real Chutzpah to plant a tree in the middle of the winter. Who ever heard of such craziness? But that's what Jews will do, in a little over a week, on Tu Bishvat. The groundhog may run the other way, but we will plant trees - or at least pay for them to be planted in Israel. We have the Chutzpah to believe that someday soon, those trees will begin to grow.

Shabbat Shalom!

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