Faces on Faith: A memory from a wonderful visit
Recently I returned to Columbia, Maryland, where I served Temple Isaiah there as its first full-time rabbi. As the congregation is looking toward its 50th year, I was invited to preach and teach over the weekend to inaugurate the year of celebration.
I remember my first Bar Mitzvah at the fledgling congregation in 1973.
A mother walked into my office saying, “You must understand, my son has great difficulty with Hebrew and does not have a lot of self-confidence. I worry that he won’t be able to learn all he has to know.”
“Don’t worry,” I replied with all of the confidence befitting a young rabbi who had never prepared a Bar or Bat Mitzvah student in his life. “I guarantee that that when the big day comes you will be very proud!”
It took hard work to keep that promise, but at his Bar Mitzvah the young man did beautifully. He effectively taught the congregation the essential lesson of the last portion of the Book of Leviticus that if we all followed God’s commandments, we could create a just, caring and compassionate society. A world where, “No one shall cause fear.” (Leviticus 26:6)
That magical (two-words in Hebrew) phrase appears 11 times in the Hebrew Bible, most famously in the Prophet Micah (4:4) who dreamed of the day when all of us would sit under our vines and our fig trees with none to make us afraid.
To me those words represent the highest possible hope for humanity: a world where no one will have to fear war, hunger, homelessness, the unavailability of health care and physical or sexual assault.
It is clear to me that creating such a world is God’s desire for us, but we cannot expect God to do it for us.
We are the ones – each of us in our own way – who must dream and work for a world where no one will fear that he or she will go to bed hungry, lack adequate clothing or a home to protect them from winter chill and summer heat.
I believe that is the highest goal of our Hebrew Bible: a world “with none to make us afraid!”
I hope it will become our highest goal as well, and I hope each of us can find things we can do to move our world in that direction.
Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is with the Bat Yam Temple of the Islands.