Between Us: Let’s talk about the collective

Between Us

As you are receiving this, our youngest is being called to the Torah this morning as a bar mitzvah. As did his older brother and sister, our son chose to have the service in Sarasota, FL so my mom – his 99 year-old grandmother – could be there. We are joined by family and friends in joyous pride and celebration.

The Torah reading this morning is Shemot, Hebrew for “names.” This portion opens with the recitation of the names of all of Jacob’s sons who went to Egypt. Other names are recounted for us as well, stressing the individuality and importance of those who played a major role in the creation of the nation of Israel.

And it is this particular transformation that becomes the major theme of Shemot. During this parasha, and throughout the Exodus story, we are transformed from a collection of individuals into a nation. Indeed, early in this portion, the new Pharaoh (“who did not know Joseph”) identifies us, saying, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us.” In Genesis, our relationship with God was through our forefathers’ individual experiences with a higher power. But, from this point on in the Torah, it is the people of Israel with whom God seeks to establish a covenant. And as we will read over and over again, it is our behavior as a collective which guides our relationship with God and the nature of the covenant.

Today, it is up to each of us to find ways to engage and act both as individuals and as a community that can make a positive difference for those around us. It is up to us to create opportunities that reinforce the positive spiritual, communal and political power of acting as a collective.

I hope our son takes this lesson close to his heart as he enters Jewish adulthood – understanding his identity both as an individual and as a part of our Jewish community.

Wishing you and yours a healthy, happy and peaceful New Year,

Steve Rakitt