Shabbat Message from Cantor Ron Eichaker
So many “loose ends” are being tied in the Book of Deuteronomy. In this section called Ki Tavo (because or for when you enter…) – Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8 – Moses continues his review of the laws previously declaimed in Ki Teitzei (the section before this). Of particular interest is knowing that, throughout the wandering in the wilderness, prayer was largely unstructured. Each individual engaged in prayer and worship in their own language and style. The only continuity of ritual was found in the sacrifices themselves. This makes sense since, not only did the post-Egyptian Israelites (now second generation) have their own language and ritual practices (which were abandoned in the first generation), there were many disaffected people from other cultures who joined the Israelites in their pursuit of a Promised Land with the prospect of a better life and future. Not yet able to acquire a language and culture that was still in its development, all these people found commonality in their sacrificial practices, ethical laws and moral standards beginning in The Book of Exodus and throughout The Book of Numbers. One of the last significant pieces to the cultural and religious mosaic, then, was to provide a specific structure and context for a worship gathering and experience.
The Israelites who brought their first fruits of their harvest would recite a prescribed account of their history (Deuteronomy 26:3-10), then the sacrifice would take place. An assurance that the offering was a true and accepted tithe (Deuteronomy 26:13-15) would close the ceremonial proceedings.
This structure was solid then and is still solid today. The three components of covenantal ratification ceremonies contain the five basic elements of a Jewish covenant first given to the Israelites in the Torah. It is also the base on which contract law is built upon today. The five elements are: History, Statement of Intent, Promises and Threats, Blessings and Curses and the sign of the covenant (material transaction).
The Israelite history represented the proof text of our current existence and ties us to our beginnings. Reciting that history vocalizes the foundation of our religious and cultural heritage, connecting us with an unbroken chain from then to now.
The recitation of the history described in Ki Tavo also established the foundation of the Passover Haggadah. In the Passover Haggadah we read the Mishnah; “B’chol dor vador…” – “In every generation, one must look upon one’s self as if one personally had gone out of Egypt…” (Pesachim 116b:3).
This past week we celebrated our annual event, led by Gail Kramer and Carolyn Satz. We honored our 2020 Chia Society Honorees – Naomi Barasch, Michael Klein, Paul Kravitz, Linda Kusmer and Stacey Prelutsky for their deep involvement in our congregation and commitment to our UH family in words, deeds, and substance. Andy Babitz headlined a 40-minute tribute video that was entertaining, inspirational, and engaging, pretty much summing up our membership. The myriad faces and talents shown in that video was a compressed sampling of the many members that have carried the traditions of UH from 1837 to now. If you have not yet seen the video, I recommend you go to our website and view it or re-see it. There are so many details in that video, that call for repeated viewing. Along with our tributes to our congregation, its members and current leaders, this past Sunday’s event gave us our first collective opportunity to offer our first fruits to the congregation. How appropriate as the month of Elul is also referred to as the New Year for Tithing (yes there are actually four “New Years” in the cycle of our calendrical year).
When you align your life with the Jewish experience today, you are connecting yourself to the first hence oldest “One God” movement in human history. You are, by your embrace of our UH family, joining yourself to, not just the 183 years of St. Louis and American Jewish history, but to the nearly 4000 years of history recounted in the Torah. As you offer fruits of your labor to your sacred community, you are ensuring the vitality of our People today so we can ensure a Jewish tomorrow for the generation yet to be born. When your intentionality and substantive offering are recorded in the annals of our people as your true and sincere material support, you have once again contracted yourself to your people, your history, your Creator and, in so doing have left a legacy that will infuse an ancient existence and a contemporary presence with that which we hold most sacred; Life.
As you prepare for the New Year of the Soul, engage in the most ancient ritual and worship practices found in The Book of Deuteronomy and Parashat Ki Tavo: Remember from where you’ve come and who got you here, continue to fortify the foundations of freedom, strength, peace and prosperity for our future generations and find comfort and security knowing that you have given yourself and us a hope for a better tomorrow.
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