The calendar is full this weekend. I hope you have some good plans and will be with family and friends. And of course you are welcome here; there’s a lot going on!
Saturday night we will begin our celebration of the Shavuot holiday. And that will take place with study, as is our custom. Tobi, my wife, and Rikki, our new Executive Director, will be leading study sessions that deal with the roles of women in our tradition. It’ll be fascinating to learn about topics that are both enmeshed in our tradition, and very important in our contemporary lives.
Monday is Memorial day on our American calendar. And it is also, as the second day of Yom Tov, a day when we recite the Yizkor prayers for our loved ones who have passed.
On the first day of Shavuot, you will hear the reading of one of the most beautiful narratives in the Bible, the Book of Ruth. And this Shabbat is the beginning of the Book of Numbers, Bamidbar, or literally “in the wilderness.” And we will hear from a Naval Officer, Arielle Holland, from this community.
I mention all of this for two reasons. One is, I hope you will join us. The second is to begin our study. One area of interest in the Jewish study of text has to do with why certain texts or events are juxtaposed to others. That is, what meaning can we find in the connections between the things we do and the connections between different texts we are reading?
When I was thinking about this regarding this weekend, I came across a biblical account* from the second chapter of the Second Book of Samuel.
We are told there that after the death of King Saul, the people of Israel divided into two factions. One group followed King David, and his general, Joab, and the other group followed King Ish Boshet. Two armies came together and there was a battle. Joab had with him that day his two younger brothers, Avishai and Asael.
After the war, Joab ordered that a body count be made, as was the custom of generals after every battle, in order to determine how many of the enemy‘s soldiers had fallen, and how many of his own men had fallen. That was the way that generals determined which side had won. They reported back to him that of Abner’s army, three hundred and sixty soldiers had fallen and that of his army “nineteen men were dead – and Asael.”
We note that Asael was Joab’s brother. And we note that the accounting included not merely numbers, but also a name.
Here’s what I have been thinking about the weekend, about Shabbat and Shavuot, and about what we read and study.
We know that the Book of Numbers is all about counting people as individuals. Every person counts. We know that Shavuot is about receiving Torah. And our reception of Torah was about a revelation for every ONE, every person. The Book of Ruth speaks to the importance of the individual woman, her place in a family and her role as the progenitor of future hopes. And Yizkor and Memorial Day, is not just about remembering loss, it’s about remembering particular loss. The loss of a father or mother, a daughter or son, a brother or sister, a wife or husband.
And all of this speaks to the infinite worth of every human being.
That’s how we are to face this world. That’s an essential dimension of Jewish values. It is about the importance of everyone of us, everyone of them, every human being. This is why we call out the names of every single yartzeit each day.
This is why we are taught that the world was begun with the creation of a single man and woman. It is because every man and woman is precious, holy and valuable.
From memory we learn about life. From the past we can be directed towards a brighter future.
Every man and every woman is created in the Divine image.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
See you in shul…a lot this weekend!!
Rabbi David Steinhardt
*from my friend Rabbi Jack Reimer
This column is dedicated to the memory of Rubin Shafran z”l