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Personal and Communal Responsibility

01/30/2014 01:59:38 PM


This Shabbat, we will read one of the most exciting and well known portions in the entire Torah - the revelation of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.  The text sets the scene by very dramatically describing the thunder and lightning, heavy clouds consuming the mountain, and loud blasts of the shofar that grew louder and louder.  It was the crack of dawn and all the people were trembling in awe.  Moses led the people out of the camp and they assembled at the foot of the mountain.

The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) explains that the people were not just situated at the foot of the mountain, but literally underneath it.  God had caused the mountain to be uprooted and it hovered over the people.  God, in holding the mountain over the nation was proclaiming, “If you accept the Torah, well and good.  If not, this will be your burial place.”

This hardly seems like a fair choice.  One of our esteemed congregants, Bill Eisenberg, describes this as the original Godfather ultimatum - an offer you can’t refuse.  How could God expect the people to willingly accept the Torah under the threat of literally being crushed to death if they declined?

To answer this question, let us ponder the legacy of our dear member who was laid to his eternal rest earlier this week.  Milton Epstein, z”l, was an unsung hero of this congregation.  He rolled up his sleeves and, often single-handedly, made programming happen by finding speakers, organizing events and serving faithfully on the board, men’s club and other committees.  His efforts and those of so many others help to support our mission of being a place for Jewish learning and a resource for our community and beyond.  It is in no small part because of his commitment and yours that HTAA continues to be a rock for so many individuals, families and institutions in search of spirituality, charity and fraternity, as it has been for decades.

Milton acted not because of feeling coerced, rather because he knew the importance of action and the consequences of inaction.  In the same vein, God’s holding the mountain over the heads of the Israelites was not necessarily a threat that they would be killed instantly by not accepting the mandate.  It was a demonstration that if we, as individuals and as a community, take the responsibility that is presented to us and make use of our talents and resources, the Jewish people and the world will thrive.  Conversely, if we ignore our personal responsibilities, generations will suffer.

This rabbinic parable and the memory of Milton Epstein, z”l, are reminders that our efforts, no matter how small they may seem, have impact beyond our local community and beyond our own mortality.  Let us heed the call to renew our commitment to our community and to our synagogue.  Let us become involved in helping the Jewish people grow stronger in learning and caring and may we accept our personal roles in being parts of the whole.

Whether it is helping to make sure we have a minyan at shul each and every day of the year, or serving on various committees, or giving of our resources to afford others opportunity - to the extent that we involve ourselves in our community, we become part of something much larger than ourselves, leaving our Jewish footprints on this world.

May Milton’s memory always serve as a blessing and an inspiration and may we be motivated to renew our commitment to God, our community and making the world a better place.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Steven Suson

Fri, August 14 2020 24 Av 5780