- Posted by tisrael
- On August 16, 2016
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D’var Torah delivered during Riverway Project‘s Soul Food Friday at Temple Israel of Boston, August 12, 2016
Rows upon rows, shelves upon shelves, rooms upon rooms of series, of titles, of tables of contents, of chapters, of pages of books in the Boston Public Library. I was browsing and searching for just the right titles, just the right the novel, just the right narrative, just the right story to take with me for a month in Israel: an unprecedented month with no responsibility, no daily schedule, no work email to check excessively; a month in Israel entitled #Gubbatical (a combination of my last name, Gubitz, and “sabbatical”). That word sabbatical, however, was a stretch. It was just time off between jobs.
So I browsed and I searched for the story that I wanted to shape my time away; for the story that I wanted to tell upon my return; the story that I wanted to, of course, document on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
So among the rows upon rows and shelves and rooms, I browsed and I searched – from my couch. I joined the Boston Public Library from home. I’ve never actually been there. This was my first library card since, perhaps, a summer reading competition when I was ten in Indiana where I grew up.
But now as a full fledged and proud “card carrying” member of the Boston Public Library network, any story I wanted (with the help of Amazon and a dose of WiFi) could be beamed to my Kindle. I did not have to pack a single book for my trip to the Promised Land.
It is that Promised Land for which Moses and the Israelites have been browsing, searching, wandering, packing, unpacking, and kindling hope to enter for so long. In the Torah’s table of contents, we began this week the fifth book of Moses, Deuteronomy.
D’varim, words. In it, words become stories.
Moses tells a story, repeating and renewing for us the narrative of previous chapters. He browses and searches, perhaps Googles, through his memories and stories of a people he has “led, loved,” and, at times, “loathed.” In retelling the story, Moses, nearing the end of his life, writes a memoir. He is both author and editor. Some scholars suggest that his version and retelling takes some poetic license.
Even so, in Moses’ version, it is not quite a triumphant story. In some ways, there is not a happy ending for Moses. So his tone at times is of exhaustion and lament. “Eicha – how did I lead you for so long?” Moses cries out! For at times, he loathed the Israelite people on their journey from slavery in Egypt. And at times, he loved them. “Eicha – how come I can’t lead you any longer?” Amid both loathing and loving, Moses will even beg God later, “why can’t I go into the land with them?” Despite his longing and his own edits, we will read in future weeks that this hero’s journey does not come full circle.
Full circle. Many of us love those stories that come full circle, those stories that have a beginning, middle, and end with highs and lows, such that each justify the next: when the conclusion to the story is shiny and neat; when the sorrow becomes joy; when the pain becomes healing; when the underdog wins because they stick the landing. But sometimes, like Moses, we may find that our own stories, those chapters of our own hopes and dreams, feel unfinished, unresolved, even unfair.
Not every underdog wins Olympic Gold and some champions place fourth. Not every competition ends with a sportsmanlike handshake and some end with a virtuous hug.
Not every Syrian refugee swimmer can so bravely save her people by swimming them to safety. Don’t we love those stories nonetheless?
The world’s bestseller – the Torah – however, helps us to stack our bookshelf with stories of tragedy and victory alike. People who identify themselves as part of the Jewish narrative are Olympians of storytelling. Whether you find yourself immersed in a memoir of joy or sadness, of brokenness or wholeness; whether like Moses, you have exercised poetic license or prefer the unabridged and unedited version, I would be honored, as rabbi to Riverway, if you were willing to share it with me. A chapter or just a page, totally your choice. I want to know the stories of people who want to be part of this community, and I want to know the stories of people who are not sure yet if they want to be part of this community.
In Israel, I wandered the streets of the Old City with Riverway’s own Nick Sulfaro; ironically, we Jews found ourselves primarily among the Stations of the Cross. I participated in civil disobedience as we read Torah on the Women’s side of the Western Wall and Nick and Riverway’s beloved Andrew Oberstein joined in righteous support.
And then we drank Rosé wine as we celebrated Shabbat on the beach in Tel Aviv…and we texted selfies of all of it back to the team here at Temple Israel.
So the irony of my brand new Boston Public Library membership is that the one book I started, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is, in fact, immortal. I couldn’t finish it. I’m not sure I really tried, for I was writing a chapter in my own life that was so powerfully connected to the people who make up chapters of the Riverway Project’s story and the story of the greater Temple Israel community.
So I hope you’ll meet me for coffee or a glass of Rosé, tonight and in the weeks and months to come, to share whatever part of your story you’d like. And may we, together, write new chapters in the Olympic story of the Jewish People. In this team sport, let us fly high and stick the landing. Shabbat Shalom.