In the choice between tragedy and destiny as opposed to control and opportunity Judaism provides us with a clear answer. This week’s portion of the Torah says it simply and clearly. They are laid out before us and we must make sound choices, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity… So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants”. We have been given the opportunity to continuously make choices between good and bad, right and wrong, and the responsibility of this process is all upon us. It is not an uncontrolled and uninfluenced destiny that we face. It may be a tough and demanding struggle but we can and are expected to control it. As Jews we are expected to make the right choice, the choices of life.
Shana tova from all of us at Camp Newman
We are unequivocally warned not think that we have no control over our lives and that we are doomed to live them without influencing their outcome. “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.” These words are said because it is so tempting and easy to complain about some greater force that is preventing us from doing the right things, to better our conditions, and complain why others are faring better than us. We are told not to go up that alley and rather get closer to ourselves, our hearts and souls and make things happen for ourselves.
Admittedly this is tough work. The moment we accept the fact that we must control our life destination and it is our responsibility to do so, that we can change the course of events, our perception of what is doable also changes. So does what we actually do. We are now at the verge of a New Year and it is an opportunity for us to take these words and make them our life style. Understanding that in the grand scheme of things, sometimes even those small things we do, or don’t, make a difference. They may be changing the world in more profound ways that we may readily appreciate. Is it not true that too often we gave up, stood in despair, thought that there will be no one out there listening to us, that nothing can be changed? However it is possible, it must be possible.
Just a year ago our dear friends from the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), and we with them, stood amazed and the blaze that consumed the beloved Camp Newman in north California. We were spared of human causalities amongst us, but in the areas lives were lost and shattered. From the camp practically nothing was left standing. It was clear that it will take many years to rebuild this camp on that site. It was so easy to just give up, this camp just went through a massive and costly renovation – our friends decided differently. Within a few weeks an alternate location on the shores of the San Francisco Bay was located, and camp resumed activity to the delight of many hundreds of girls and boys who cherish their summer camp spirit and experience. This was not in heaven and not far away. They took to it with all their hearts and souls and changed the grim reality of those days.
Undoubtedly we will face difficulties and adversity – that is life. However, our year will be measured if we always remember that “the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it”. In 1977 one Isaac Friedman wrote an article titled “A Quick View of (Reform) Judaism” that was published in the local newspaper Metropolin, “When visiting in 1968 in the USA and Canada I spoke with some young men that called themselves Reform and I tried to understand them. Why have they chosen this stream of Judaism. Their answer was that they are progressive! I responded: You are assimilating and within 50 years nothing will be left from your Judaism.” It is now 2018, 50 years after he wrote those words. He of course did not spear our congregation and noted, “They have also arrive in Netanya. I suppose quietly at first but then seeing that the devil is not that bad they stand up high now, and are spread across the town.” In my written response, fifty years ago I quoted from Pirkei Avot, chapter 5, 23, “Be strong as the leopard, swift as the eagle, fleet as the gazelle, and brave as the lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven.” Why does one have to be as “strong as a leopard” so as not to be ashamed when certain people try to mock you for the your worship of God. We shall continue what we have started many years ago, we will flourish and grow. And the likes of Friedman of the world we shall say that we have heard about them and their like, there will come a day and they will understand too. We shall be there with our hearts and mouths – doers of the world.
Reuven Marko, 8 September 2018, 28 Elul, 5778