Columns | Rabbi’s Corner

Rabbi’s Corner: Upon whose shoulders are we standing?

rabbi-stephanie-aaronWe have just completed the cycle of what Rabbi Kerry Olitzky calls “the Fall Holidays of Memory.” During the month of Elul that leads into the Days of Awe, we spent many hours remembering this past year, doing cheshbon hanefesh, taking an accounting of our souls. This involves tallying our regrets, being in true remorse for our behaviors, and seeking out individuals we had harmed by our words or our deeds to apologize and repair our offenses. Rosh Hashanah also is known as Yom haZikaron, the Day of Memory. There is an essential memory we carry within us, an always memory that underpins who we are and how and why we are. Olitzky teaches that we find this memory in Sefer D’varim, the Book of Deuteronomy, where we read, “Only take heed and be very careful to guard the memory of the day you stood before G-d at Horeb all the days of your life; and teach about it to your children and your grandchildren. Do not forget the things which your eyes saw and do not remove the memory from your hearts.” D’varim 4:9-10.

Are we always just a step away from Sinai? Our inner arks house the unbroken tablets, freshly etched with mitzvot ready for the doing as they ride along within us, brushing up against the shattered tablets, the broken pieces that claim so much of our thoughts and worries. The “coulda, woulda, shouldas” so aptly named by Shel Silverstein and the raw places of grief and loss, our broken parts. What about Sinai is so urgent to remember right now, right here and now? It is our collective and individual Hineini; each of us at the ready, with our Here I am; I am here prepared to “fulfill my obligation to self, to others, and to G-d.”
We heard the voice of the shofar; we saw the thunder and the lightning upon the mountain. We entered into our sacred covenant with G-d. We will not remove the memory from our hearts. But right at this moment, in Rabbi Simon Jacobson’s words, “We are feeling weak — yet we have tremendous strength — the cumulative mitzvot of the past generations gives us that strength — what the great, greats did lives on forever and accumulates….it is shoring us up right now.”

Standing on the shoulders of giants: the patriarchs and the matriarchs, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel; standing on Moses’s shoulders and Miriam’s and Joseph’s and Deborah’s and Elijah’s and Rabbi Akiva’s and Hillel’s and the Ari’s and the Baal Shem Tov’s, and Rav Kook’s and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s and Elie Wiesel’s and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s shoulders; all of these Jews who were with us at Sinai; upon whose shoulders we stand to this day. We each have our own list, made up of our family members and people both living and dead from all faiths and walks of life from all over the universe whose shoulders we recognize that we are standing upon; these shoulders who brought us to this day where we could take a stand.

The stand I am asking each one of us to take is to stand up powerfully, boldly and brazenly against the hatred of racism. The Anti-Defamation League’s Walk Against Hatred will be virtual this year. On Sunday, Oct. 18, join a team, make your own team, or just walk with your family. Do your virtual walk; unfurl your banner; stand up courageously in the face of hatred and declare with all your might, “Not on my watch; Hineini, I am here! All of us together, united to stop hatred!”