Securing Our Future – Choosing Life

The High Holidays remind us we are just temporary guests. Our lives are finite. God’s creation is meant to be enduring.

by Bob Leventhal

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crossposted from B’yachad

Last week in parashat Ki Tavo, we read about the “blessing and the curses’ that will follow depending on how the people of Israel maintain their part of the covenant. This week in parashat Nitzavim, we read that the people are gathered as they prepare to enter the land with Joshua and reminded of the covenant is made with all the people and their descendants.

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photo credit: nymag.com

We Stand Together

Moses tells the people that they stand here not just with their elders, wives and children but even with their guest workers, “from woodchoppers to water carriers” (Deuteronomy 31:9). Moses is making it clear that the covenant moves across lines of class and across age and gender.

The covenant also moves back vertically between our ancestors and our future generations.

I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are not with us this day. (Deuteronomy 29:13)

This covenantal mission is not just with the current leaders but with their descendants.

My Alban Institute colleague Dan Hotchkiss used to ask congregations, ”Who owns the congregation?” Leaders normally would tell him, “Our members own it.” He challenged them by suggesting that in fact it is the congregation’s mission that owns the congregation. He then suggested that if prospective members and those not even born could stand and be counted, then congregational votes might be different.

When the people enter the land they need to be accountable. When they cross the Jordan the manna stops falling. We need to let go of our dependency and open our hearts to accountability.

Then the Lord your God will open up your hearts and the hearts of your offspring to love the Lord your God with all you heart and soul in order that you may live (Deut.30:6)

A short version of this mission statement might be, “We help people follow these teachings so that might live”.

How do leaders ensure that they can fulfil this mission today and tomorrow?

Next generations may rightfully question current synagogue leaders should they find problems they have inherited:

  •     Long term endowment funds have been tapped for current operations
  •     Preventive maintenance on the facility has been long deferred
  •     Ritual decisions were made by a small group that did not represent current members, let alone prospective ones
  •     Board meetings continued with ineffective meeting strategies, unaccountable leadership and personal agendas
  •     Youth programs were cut back at a time where they were needed more than ever
  •     Adult education programs had been allowed to wither

As a synagogue leader, I need to weigh the balance of what I have done to provide an inheritance for future generations and what I have failed to do.

A High Holiday Reflection

These texts have helped me think about the upcoming High Holidays. I am reminded that I will stand with the entire congregation this week- old and young- rich and poor. I will be reminded of the covenant God had with my ancestors. The liturgy remind me to seek God’s compassion based on the merit of those who have come before us and for the way in which we ensure community for future generations.

It’s often said that American leaders “kick the can” down the road (especially with issues like social security, national debt etc.) for someone else. How can we ask the next generation of leaders to invest in our community if we are not stepping up to secure their future?

In the theology of the HH we learn that repentance requires four steps:

  • Recognition
  • Remorse
  • Confession
  • Resolve

This brings me to Sunday’s climate march in NYC. I recognize that we have been “kicking the can” down the road and I am sorry that we are jeopardizing the lives of our descendants. As I talked about the march I got several responses. One business person asked why we should step up when other countries don’t want to do their part. Another just felt there was nothing they could do. Some attacked me personally for bringing the issue up- they wanted to ignore it.

The High Holidays remind us we are just temporary guests. Our lives are finite. God’s creation is meant to be enduring. Moses teaches that what is asked is difficult but not impossible:

“It is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who amongst you can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, to observe it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-12).

At the march, we stood with those who choose to recognize the facts and regret what we have avoided and covered up. Joining others to take a stand is “not beyond our reach.” We continue to stand with those who are willing to speak up and resolve to take a stand. The answer is not in heaven. I can choose to be a better recycler. I can stand this day with others- rich and poor- young and old. I can look to stand up on any platform I can find and declare our mission is to “help people follow these teachings so that they might live.”