Shavuot Is Almost Here! May 10, 2013

Shavuot is almost Here!
May 10, 2013
While almost all of us observe Mother’s Day in some manner, few
of us take Shavuot, which we observe this Tuesday night and
Wednesday as seriously as the recent man made commercial observance
of Mother’s Day. Shavuot is one of the three Torah based festivals God
mandates we observe, beginning with Pesach in the early spring and
culminating with Sukkot in the fall. Each of these festivals is
agriculturally based. Pesach is the early spring festival of the farmers
and shepherds. The farmers would take the spring grain, grind it into
cakes like tortillas or pitas and then bring a Thanks offering to God. The
shepherds would take a lamb from the flock and offer it as a Thanks
offering to God. Shavuot is the festival of first fruits, when the farmers
would bring the first fruits of the spring harvest as an offering to God.
Sukkot celebrates the fall harvest when the Jewish people’s relative
righteousness would be reflected in the size of the harvest.
The brilliance of the rabbis is reflected in how each of these
festivals became associated with the Exodus from Egypt, the formative
event in our history. Pesach celebrates the Exodus itself. The seder
reminds us that each of us journeyed from slavery to freedom, redeemed
by God’s saving power. Sukkot speaks of the long journey from Egypt
to the promised land. It reminds us that we were remade during that
time. We shed our slave mentality and became partners with God in the
redemption of the land. Shavuot commemorates the giving of Torah at
Sinai. It reminds us that true freedom only comes with responsibility. It
is this connection with Torah of which I speak tonight, for without Torah
we have no truth, no existence, and no life. Without Torah, the Jewish
people would be just like every other group. There would be no reason
for our continued existence. With Torah, we have a special purpose, to
be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, to bring the light of God’s
teaching into the dark comers of the world, to bring healing to the
afflicted, and to hasten the day, through our righteous acts, that God’s
Kingdom will be brought to fruition right here on earth.
One of the most important points I can make tonight is that the
Torah does not separate laws into categories. There is no distinction in
our holy text between civil, criminal, and religious laws. All law comes
from God. The Torah does not make a difference between morality and
public policy. All belongs to God who distinguishes only between
sacred and profane, Israel and the nations. It is exceedingly difficult and
somewhat specious for us to separate politics from moral issues because
that concept is anethema to the Torah and the Jewish Tradition>
For all its grandeur, however, the rabbis teach us that the Torah
speaks in human language, meaning that it is comprehensible and
relevant to our human predicament, that regardless of the situation, we
can find wisdom and meaning through Torah. An example of this is
from the Book of Deuteronomy, 23: 17, which states, “You shall not
return a runaway slave to its master.” This verse should have made our
ancestors natural opponents of slavery but today speaks to us about a
situation that brings shame on our country, the illegal status of over
eleven million immigrants who live in the shadows of our law and
society. They work hard, pay taxes, raise their children but have no
legal protections and no path to citizenship. Congress is currently
working to pass a law that will provide a ten year path towards
citizenship, once it is determined that 90% of our Southern border with
Mexico is secured. It is this requirement that remains a stumbling block
because even though we need a secure border, how can we determine
whether it is 75, 80, or 90% secured? What does that even mean?
Meanwhile, millions are still waiting and yearning for the opportunities
and privileges we so take for granted.
What does the Torah teach us about illegal immigration? A great
deal, actually. We are taught that there should be one law for the citizen
and the stranger alike. We are commanded to consider the needs of the
stranger who lives within our gates. We must give the resident alien the
same protections that are extended to ourselves. Why does Torah
mandate such provisions for the stranger? Abraham and Sarah were
refugees, forced from their homeland by religious persecution, needing
to find a place where they could worship the one God. Moses was a
political refugee, granted asylum by the Midianites after fleeing from the
Egyptians. Of course, we have been, throughout our history, strangers in
strange lands, seeking refuge from religious and economic persecution.
We can each tell a story about our own ancestors who came to this
country hoping for a better life. My grandfather, Samuel Fink, deserted
the Czar’s army during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Why would a
Jewish boy fight for the hated Czar against the Japanese against whom
he had nothing? According to family legend, he awoke in the middle of
the night while on bivuoc, stole the boots of his comrades, put them in a
cart which he “requisitioned,” and drove horse and cart out of Russia,
traveling by night and hiding by day, selling the boots as he needed
money to pay for his passage to America. My grandfather was a
political refugee, seeking asylum from having to fight in a war in he had
no stake. Our own Cantor Braun came here twenty years ago from a
collapsing Soviet Union so she could live a Jewish life in a stable and
safe land. We are to have empathy with illegal immigrants, not merely
sympathy for their plight, for we have known what it is they are living
through each and every day.
It is up to us to pressure Congress to reach a concensus on this
immigration bill, to end their political divisions, and to ensure, as does
the Torah, that there is one law for the citizen and stranger alike.

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