Summer Grandeur

person reading a book near a lakeI love the pace of summer.  People are enjoying stay-cations and far off travel.  The neighborhood ice cream truck magically pierces the heat and humidity which is finally upon us.  Even at shul, the summer stride is different.  I am afforded space to read, think and plan which is hard to find during the normal year.

During the year, the focus of the entire staff is far more than simply services, religious school or a few lifecycle events.  Simply put, the mission of Beth El is to bridge Jewish wisdom and practices to today’s lifestyles and circumstances.

This is no easy task.

The difficulty is not from the lack of relevance of Judaism though.  We are part of a rich tradition which values living a holy life, seeing ourselves and others as sacred and focusing on moments of mindfulness to raise our perceptions and actions each day.  Often though, the greatest impediment I meet is from people who have pre-determined that Judaism is only about milestones and not transformation.

Milestones are important at Beth El and within Judaism but they are periodic.  Birth, b’nai mitzvah, weddings, funerals, etc.  If one’s spiritual life is exclusively focused on milestones, there will be decades between events.  Thirteen years from birth to bar mitzvah.  Thirteen or more years from bat mitzvah to wedding.  These moments are too infrequent to develop a deep identity and awareness of Jewish practices, values and community.

Jewish milestones are beautiful and certainly high points… but they are not enough.  Judaism is about so much more; it has the potential for spiritual transformation.  To achieve this, we must be open to this possibility.  We must do the difficult self-reflection needed for being transformed.  Additionally, we should be clear this is what we expect of our faith rather than an outmoded set of rituals.

On June 16, 1963 in the midst of the civil rights battles, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a telegram to President Kennedy.  In it, Heschel wrote, “I propose that you Mr. President declare [a] state of moral emergency…. The hour calls for high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.”

High moral grandeur and spiritual audacity – such a powerful vision for how Judaism should engage in the world.  Heschel could write this because he knew Judaism was about transformation.  He felt deeply that Judaism’s calling was about more than milestone moments.  He labored to live a life inspired by our tradition’s highest aspirations.

We cannot all be like Heschel but we can take time during the summer to reflect on and decide how we will deepen our Jewish lives.  This summer, read a book on a Jewish topic or visit a Jewish site on your travels.  (Click here for a previous list of book recommendations.) Let’s celebrate the milestones and simultaneously prepare ourselves for spiritual transformation.  The clergy and all the resources of Beth El are here to partner with you to bridge Jewish wisdom and practices to our lifestyles and circumstances.  This is why we belong to Beth El and we should expect no less from ourselves or our faith.

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris