Shabbat Shalom. Mo’adim l’Simcha.

In a moment of great weakness, Rabbi Greene has permitted me to prepare a D’var Torah for this morning. Some of you long-time regulars in the evening minyan may recognize a familiar theme. If so, I apologize, but it is one that is very important to me. Blame my first teachers, my parents, it is a lesson they taught me.

Just a few moments ago, we read from the Torah, in the fifth Aliyah, “Adonai, Adonai El rachum v’chanun, erech apayim rav chesed v’emet….” “The Lord, the Lord, a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger abounding in kindness…” God tells Moshe to proclaim this to the people in response to Moshe’s pleas on their behalf, after the sin of the golden calf.  In the 145th Psalm, Ashrei, this verse is echoed “chanun v’rachum, Adonai, erech apayim u’gadol chesed” and later in the same psalm we are told “poteach et yadecha umsbeyah l’col chai ratzon” “You open Your hand; your favor sustains all the living”.

All of these verses emphasize God’s compassion, loving-kindness, generosity and capacity for forgiveness. These are the attributes of the Lord that we ask God to fulfill every day and even more so during the High Holiday season, when we especially need God’s loving-kindness, generosity, and forgiving nature. It is hard to count the number of times we chant Adonai, Adonai El rachum v’chanun during S’lichot and Yom Kippur and even at the beginning of the Torah service on yom tovim to remind KBH and ourselves of God’s love for us.

This is what we want from God, but, Judaism, our relationship with God is not one-way. It is a covenantal relationship. What is our end of the bargain?

I believe it has to do with the interaction between ritual and action. One, but not the only, purpose of ritual is to feel God in our lives. We pray, we observe rules and customs that connect us, in some way to God. The primary form of worship in ancient time was the sacrificial service, the KORBAN. The word for the offering, Korban, has at its root the same Hebrew consonants and the word KAROV which means to come near. This, I believe, is no accident. I believe that the purpose of ritual and custom is to come near to God.

Of course, we cannot come physically close, but we can come spiritually and behaviorally close to Godliness. Our job is to act in, as well as we can, a God-like manner.

Our liturgy and scripture point us in this direction. Chapter 19 in the book of Leviticus, part of what we call the “Holiness Code”, starts out by instructing us “You shall be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” In this chapter we are taught love as in “Love thy neighbor as yourself.” We are taught compassion when it says “do not stand idly by the blood of your brother.” The chapter goes on the demand honesty, fairness charity, forgiveness (do not bear a grudge) and kindness to the stranger. The prophetic teachings of the High Holy Days teach that the “fast” God has chosen, or prefers, is to feed the stranger and clothe the naked. The book of Proverbs tells us that God prefers righteousness to worship. The lesson is clear. so what do we do?

Just a few days ago, at the beginning of the Seder, we made the declaration that all who are hungry and alone, let them join us. This is certainly a statement of compassion; it is also virtually impossible to accomplish, so before the holiday we make MAOT HITTIN donations so the poor among us can buy food. We donate clothing, especially coats in the winter, for the needy, thus emulating God’s act of kindness when God made clothes (and it says made, not bought) for Adam and Eve. We spill drops of wine as we recite the plagues, lessening our joy to show empathy and compassion for the innocents among the Egyptians who suffered the plagues along with Pharoah. We make shiva visits to try to provide a measure of compassionate comfort to the bereaved. We can make bichor cholim visits to those who are ill to lift their spirits. We can offer to go shopping for the home-bound. We are enjoined during the High Holiday season to be forgiving as we wish to be forgiven. There is a portion in the Musaf Amidah, which we will be reciting shortly, where we are told, quoting from Deuteronomy chapter 16, of the three pilgrimage festivals and that, as we bring offerings to God “they shall not appear before the Lord emptyhanded”. To me, this means that if we see someone whom circumstances have left emptyhanded, it is our obligation to put something in their hand.

The bottom line is that nearness to God or Godliness requires us to remember that we are all created in God’s image and we need to show the same goodness to God’s other children, our brothers and sisters, as we expect for ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom and Mo’adim L’Simcha