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“Do We Belong?” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

November 18, 2022 | 24 Cheshvan 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat and then towards Thanksgiving. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

A stranger or a resident? Is it possible to be both?

Abraham referenced himself in this way in this week’s Torah portion. Sarah, his wife, had died. After mourning her, Abraham needed to bury her. He went to the Hittites, the people who lived in the land of Canaan, to purchase a burial plot from them. He described himself as Ger veToshav, I am a stranger and a resident among you. (Genesis 23:4)

The grammatical structure of these two nouns and potentially contradicting meanings call our attention. The idea to be from there and not from there presents a complex notion.

Is it possible to be both? Did he belong or not? Did he intend to be tentative or was he saying something else?

Rashi, the 11th century commentator from France explained the juxtaposition of these two ideas by imagining what Abraham might have been saying: “I am a stranger from another land” (he came from the distant place called Ur) “AND I have settled among you.” Abraham appreciated his “otherness” even as he recognized that he resided in this place.

An early Hasidic teacher, the Dubner Maggid, took Abraham’s language as metaphor. Abraham described himself in this way to acknowledge that he was just a guest in this world, as if his presence on earth was on loan. (Itturei Torah, Volume I, page 181)

We, like Abraham, are both strangers and residents. It is possible to be both, to belong here and yet, still to be a stranger. Recognizing such a status in ourselves makes us ever more aware and empathetic that others may feel the same way and be much more vulnerable than we are. It is an ancient challenge that has modern ramifications. How we regard one another, take care of and protect each other, and show compassion make all the difference.

As we go forward from Thanksgiving, I offer this Navajo prayer I learned of when I worked on our Shabbat prayerbook, Mishkan T’filah. The prayer didn’t make it into the final draft, but it is worthy to note here:

Watch over me.

Hold your hand before me in protection.

Stand guard for me,

Speak in defense of me.

As I speak for you, speak for me.

As you speak for me, so will I speak for you.

May it be beautiful before me,

May it be beautiful behind me,

May it be beautiful below me,

May it be beautiful above me,

May it be beautiful all around me.

Restore me in beauty.

As both strangers and residents, may we find great beauty in Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom

  • If you are in town, come join us for Qabbalat Shabbat. All are welcome to join this service full of prayer and music. If you’re unable to join onsite, please join on Zoom, on Facebook Live, or stream on our website. Let’s celebrate together.
  • Tot Rock Shabbat gathers online at 5:00 p.m.
  • A delightful Torah Study begins at 9:00 a.m. onsite and online! We begin with a short, informal morning service and then moves into an engaging, welcoming and inclusive Torah study for everyone and anyone. To join the conversation interactively online, access Zoom. You can also watch on Temple Israel’s website or Facebook page.
  • Thank Goodness it’s Shabbat gathers at 10:00 a.m. onsite and outside. No registration necessary. Contact Heidi Smith Hyde with questions.
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with lay led Havdallah on Zoom.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher