Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year.
Tonight is unusual – the last time Kabbalat Shabbat and New Year’s Eve occurred together was in 2011.
Ezra Furman, a Jewish musician, said it best in a tweet. They wrote:
I like having both too.
I would like to take a few minutes now to connect this week’s Torah portion to being on the cusp of a secular new year. That is, as time moves forward, how are we living into our foundational stories? And what does this week’s story reveal to us about building a future for ourselves, individually and collectively?
This week’s Torah portion, Va’era
This week’s Torah portion, Va’era, begins with the revelation of God’s True Name.
God’s True Name is spelled yud, hay, vav, hay. In scholarly circles The Name is described as the Tetragrammaton, which simply means the four-letter word.
As Jews, we traditionally never pronounce The Name and cover it up with the word Adonai, which means “my Lord.” Adonai is most often translated as “Lord.”
Claiming that God’s Most Essential Name is “Lord” has, unfortunately, left many of us disconnected from the Source of Life. It is a pious cover for revelation. A way to indicate God rules over us. The word “Lord” denies individual choice and freedom.
Rather than using “Lord” as the English translation of Y H V H, I will say “HaShem,” which simply means “The Name.” For me, HaShem is more forceful than Adonai.
God Appears Differently to Moses
The portion begins with God explaining to Moses the difference between The Name and how God appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It reads:
God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am HaShem. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name HaShem.”
Va’era is the first word of the second sentence – it means, “I appeared.” What does it mean that God appeared one way to earlier generations and differently to Moses?
Moses as the Pinnacle of Revelation
Traditionally, Judaism understands Moses as the pinnacle, the height, of human interaction with God. Moses knew God more intimately than any human before him or since him. This is why Judaism constantly connects innovation with Moses, claiming that all was revealed to Moses at Mt. Sinai.
(Be sure to join us in three weeks, on January 22, for more regarding the revelation at Mt. Sinai.)
Does Revelation Evolve Over Time?
But, if Moses experienced God more fully than previous generations, why should we believe that our understanding of the Divine ended on Mt. Sinai? Personally, I see this Torah portion as a proof text for the ongoing revelation of God.
What I mean is that human understanding of the nature of reality and the nature of God deepens over time. Our relationships, with each other and with God, are more complex than any previous generation.
The Jewish tradition is a roadmap for our journey. Neither humanity nor God stopped evolving on Mt. Sinai.
God Appears to Pharaoh Through Moses and Aaron
Following the revelation of God’s True Name, the Torah portion continues with Moses and Aaron taking up the mantle of leadership. God says to Moses: “See, I place you in the role of God to Pharaoh, with your brother Aaron as your prophet.”
God explains the purpose of the ten plagues, saying: “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that I may multiply My signs and marvels in the land of Egypt. …And the Egyptians shall know that I am HaShem, when I stretch out My hand over Egypt and bring out the Israelites from their midst.”
Leaders Guide Us Towards Our Best Selves
The Israelites needed Moses and Aaron to guide them out of Egypt. Leaders help us see the possibility of a future better than today. The process takes time and commitment. We have to trust our leaders in order to be transformed by their insights.
Like Moses and Aaron, modern leaders of the Jewish people remind us that it is possible to hear the call of freedom. Leaders guide us on the journey. It is within our power to overcome adversity and to revel in deep joy, love, and gratitude.
We can choose to strive towards our best selves. We can choose leaders who help us remember our deepest truths, and to break free of our bondage.
Choosing Joy This New Year’s Eve
Yes, our lives have been altered by this pandemic in ways that we could never have imagined a few short years ago. Yet, we continue to have this community to support us along the way. Every week, we have the opportunity to join together – appreciating our common humanity, taking time to live into the deepest part of ourselves, and connect to our Cosmic Companion.
God is More Abstract than How God Appears in the Bible
We do not need a burning bush or a magic rod to connect us with HaShem. We have the souls around us and the Soul of the Universe to hold us on our journey through time.
A Prayer for God’s Appearance in 2022
As Temple Beth David steps forward into 2022, may we remember that God appears whenever we hold space for the people around us.
God appears when we comfort mourners.
God appears when we pray for the sick.
God appears when we doubt God’s presence.
God appears when we express gratitude for our food and our drinks.
God appears when we revel in the growth of our children.
God appears when we choose to create space for holiness.
When we acknowledge Shabbat and other Jewish holidays, God appears.
May God appear to you this Shabbat. May you experience joyfulness and hope as we welcome a new secular year and the unfolding future of our beloved community. Shabbat Shalom.