Parsha: N’tzavim Shabbat
5779, the Year of Shabbat
Shabbat Together Brings Judaism to Down to Earth
The apartment was about 400 square feet, if that, and its owner, a 20-something young Jewish professional in Cincinnati, did not have a baking pan, a proper knife, or a bottle of olive oil to his name, and yet, it was one of the most beautiful Shabbats of my life. We had everything we needed, a love for Jewish identity, a desire to bring Judaism into the home, and a willingness to be creative. After this Shabbat, the words of this week’s parasha became clear. Our tradition is not supposed to be an unapproachable, mysterious teaching. Judaism is meant to be as easy to access as a plate, fork or knife. As Moses is at the end of his life, he implores the Israelites to see the Covenant the same way, as within their grasp and understanding:
It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea 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 and in your heart, to observe it. (Deuteronomy 30:12-14)
I believe that this kind of accessibility to Judaism begins with Shabbat dinner. For the past several years now I have spent countless Shabbats mentoring and empowering friends to see the simple practice of Shabbat dinner as within their reach. Anyone can create a Jewish moment in their home regardless of space, cooking ability or experience. I feel blessed that Temple Emanu-El encourages my mission through our Shabbat Together experience, a program designed to help unaffiliated Jews and members of the Temple Emanu-El community foster a Shabbat dinner practice.
Moses teaches us that we are the inheritors of a tradition that is for us to shape and mold. I believe that when we create unique weekly moments that connect us with our Jewish identity, then the more of Jewish tradition will fall within our reach.
After all, the Covenant is not just with those present at Moses’ speech, it is for all the subsequent generations of Jews as well.
As we enter the High Holy Days, let Moses’ words serve us as an essential reminder that Judaism is for each of us. We will engage with the sometimes-unfamiliar words and melodies of the High Holy Days, and we might feel as though Judaism is truly something in the heavens or across the sea; however, my prayer is that we will find ways in this new year to claim our inheritance in the chain of tradition.