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Temple Avodat Shalom is a community where individuals and families can worship, study, and assemble within the context of Reform Judaism. We accept and encourage a wide range of ideas and expressions of Judaism.
We provide for the lifelong educational needs of all our congregants, helping to cultivate an appreciation of our heritage and the joys of Judaism. Our educational goals include teaching Jews of all ages a love of God, an understanding of Torah, and identification with Israel.
Our congregation is devoted to acts of loving-kindness (g'milut chasidim) and healing the world (tikkun olam) through our many social action programs within and beyond our Jewish community. We are committed to equality between men and women, reaching out to interfaith couples, and a respect for Jewish ritual traditions. We are dedicated to meeting the needs of our families, with a focus on our children, who are our future. In the spirit of our faith and our founders, we endeavor to provide a warm community and a chain of continuity for all who wish to share our home.
Writing a monthly “Rabbi’s message” has been a delightful and always agonizing task for me for the 37 years of my Rabbinate. As I write this piece, my last for the bulletin, I cannot help but be reflective. I have tried to use this column to discuss both Torah and current events in our community and the world, and to view both through the lens of the other. But in this, my 250th bulletin message to our Avodat Shalom community, I must first use this space as an opportunity to express my gratitude to God and to all of you who have made these last 25 years so meaningful. We will have an opportunity in our worship services and celebratory functions over the next month to highlight the memories of Torah study, social action and Hesed that we have initiated together over this past quarter century. The best way I can use this column today is to do what I have tried to do each month: to use Torah as a light with which we can view ourselves and our communal life.
The Torah portions for the month of June come from the Book of Numbers. They remind us of the rebellious nature of the Jews of the generation of the Exodus, and highlight the challenges they faced from their external enemies and their internal divisiveness—challenges we continue to face. On June 1 we read Shalach Lecha, the story of the 12 leaders sent out by Moses to scout out the land in preparation for the Israelites’ conquest. They all see the same thing: a land flowing with milk and honey that is inhabited by other tribes. But 10 of the 12 see only obstacles to conquest and persuade the community not to go forward. The result? 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. This story teaches me that Judaism commands us to be optimists and to have faith in God and in ourselves.
The next week’s Torah portion, Korach, is the story of a revolt against the authority of Moses and Aaron by their own cousin; the revolt is based strictly upon a desire for power, rather than a true difference of opinion as to the direction of the community. In Pirke Avot, we are told that we should avoid the disputes over power and position like that of Korach with Moses, but encourage respectful differences over principal, such as those between the sages Hillel and Shammai.
On June 15, the Torah portion, Hukat, begins with a description of mystical ritual of the red heifer and continues with the account of Miriam’s death and the famous story where Moses defies God’s command to speak to a rock as a means of ending a drought. Instead, Moses strikes the rock with his staff. The water flows, but Moses is told that he, like his sister, will die in the wilderness and will not enter the Promised Land. This Parasha teaches us about the humanity and imperfection of our heroes and our own mortality. It reminds us of the Mishna of Rabbi Tarfon who teaches that working toward the repair of the world is our responsibility, whether or not we see its completion.
On June 22, we will mark my last Shabbat as your Rabbi. The Torah portion we will read is called Balak. It is the story of a foreign prophet, Bilaam, who is hired by King Balak to cast a curse upon Israel. The curses, through God’s intervention, turn to blessings, and the last blessing is a familiar one that we sing each Shabbat morning: “Ma Tovu, Oha’lecha Ya’akov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael.” How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel. Judaism has come to interpret the word “Oha’lecha” as referring to places of worship, and “Mishkenotecha” as Jewish communities. How goodly are our places of worship and our communities. I will feel blessed to sing Ma Tovu that day, and honored to have led this Ohel Ya’akov called Avodat Shalom as your Rabbi, and to be part of the “Mishkan” of the Northern New Jersey Jewish community. I will also be blessed, on June 22, to call to the Torah my daughter, Abby, and her fiancé, Michael Friedman, for an “Aufruhf” blessing, celebrating their forthcoming marriage. We look forward to celebrating this event with you, as we have celebrated so many events together. Ann and I hope you will join us for services and for a Kiddush lunch following services. We do ask that you RSVP to Stephanie in the office (201-489-2463, ext 202) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I must end this message in the same way I have ended so many sermons and so many messages: May each of our homes, as well as our communal home called Avodat Shalom, continue to be a place where we share our blessings and ameliorate the curses of our lives by answering each other and our community with the ancient call of Abraham and of Moses: Hineni. I am here for you and for God and for me. May we all go forth from strength to strength.
Neal I. Borovitz