Devastation and Plagues

Rabbi's Message - February 4, 2022

Rabbi Tina Sobo

In our weekly Torah reading last week and this week, we are reminded of the 10 plagues in Egypt; though it hardly feels like we need such a reminder.  Over the past week I have seen the news reports of 1,600 acres of land being consumed by a wildfire in Boulder County, Colorado.  The pictures are heart breaking.  

For me, sitting here, at a safe distance, it is a reminder.  NBC News quoted Colorado’s governor saying, “It’s like the neighborhood you live in.  It’s like the neighborhood that any of us live in.  1,600 acres near a population center can be – and is, in this case – absolutely devastating.”  It’s a reality we know – the Memorial Day tornadoes of 2019 tore homes and lives apart and wrecked devastation on our own community.

What stands out about these wildfires is the rapidity with which they spread.  Climate scientists believe this is due to the severe droughts that the West coast areas have experienced due to climate change (global warming).

We are commanded in the Bible to have empathy and compassion on the most vulnerable because we were once slaves in Egypt.  The implication being that we know what it feels like to be oppressed, to be more vulnerable to devastation from natural events.  We carry that legacy as Jews and as a community that experienced a similar event.

And for many of us, it hits even closer to home.  Alan Halpern, our former executive director, who now lives and works in Boulder, lost his home to the fires.  He and his family escaped unharmed, but will be rebuilding in the weeks and months ahead, along with so many others.

The plagues of Egypt are not just fantastical stories of the past.  And as much as I may have joked over the past two years about swarms of locusts, killer bees, and COVID being a new set of plagues, there are very real, very devastating events.  It is not up to us to complete the work of rebuilding and supporting the victims, but we cannot stand idly by.

We have been in contact with Alan, and he has told us the best way to help right now is to donate to The Community Foundation of Boulder County or to the relief fund established by Jewish Colorado.  These organizations are assessing the needs of those affected and working quickly to help.  We are grateful that Alan and his family are safe and healthy, and we pray that he and all those affected find the support of community and feel at home while rebuilding physical homes.

Choosing Our Destiny

The Choices We Make

Rabbi’s Message – January 19, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

This week we read from Parashat Bo, where we complete the narrative of the plagues in Egypt and receive the commandment to celebrate Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the future.  (The Red Sea crossing happens in next week’s portion.)  In this generally well-known story, there are two verses that stand out, and are not usually part of the retelling.  Just before the final plague, God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to “borrow” from their neighbors’ objects of silver and gold and that God would dispose the Egyptians favorably to them (Exo 11:2-3).  While seemingly out of place, Rabbi Reuven Greenvald in Reform Judaism’s commentary gives us some additional insight.  He points out that in early liberated life, the Israelites would need a little money to get started.  Some commentators attribute these verses as laying the groundwork to explain where the Israelites got precious metals from to erect the tabernacle and the Golden Calf.  Continuing his commentary, Rabbi Greenvald focuses on the relationship between these actions and the plague that follows.  But, if we look at the Israelites instead, here they stand on the precipice of a new life of freedom, with these precious metals in their hands, and a choice about what to do with them.  We know, as Rabbi Greenvald reminds us, that some of those materials will be used to make the Golden Calf – for purposes that are not ultimately to the benefit of the community.  We also learn that some of them will be used for the most sacred of uses – the service of God.  And I’m sure some were used for more mundane purposes as well.  

Life is full of transitions.  (We have talked about them a lot lately.)  The turning of the year, the upcoming transition of leadership in our country, personal changes and adaptations to our current pandemic life, and the evolving outlook towards hope on stopping this virus – to name a few.  Fortunately, we all have different tools to help us navigate these transitions.  What precious items will we carry with us – material or intangible – to lead us successfully forward?  Will we be like the Israelites who used their precious metals to construct the Tabernacle?  Or is there a Golden Calf in our future?  I will close with words adapted from last week’s blessing of the New Month, which seem particularly apt right now:

Our God and God of our ancestors, may the days ahead bring us goodness and blessing: long life, peace, prosperity, Torah and reverence for the divine, and may the longings of our hearts be fulfilled for good.