This Shabbat, our 3 newest Graduates of Liberal Judaism's Baalei Tefillah (lay readers) programme, Lily Aarons, Stephen Herman and Leo Hodes led our Civic Service at Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue, They were presented their graduation certificates by Lucian Hudson and Rabbi Danny Rich, chairman and chied executive of Liberal Judaism. Following is the D'var Torah delivered by Leo:
This morning, we’re reading from the Book of Exodus. We’ve had a series of big-hitting portions over the past few weeks. The Ten Plagues. The Exodus. The Golden Calf. The Ten Commandments.
But now we’re dealing with the nitty-gritty of the detail of the building of the Sanctuary, its utensils and the priestly robes. What, for example, are we to make of the list of building materials and the manner of construction of the Tent of Meeting?
But let’s take a step back. The people had suffered years of oppression and persecution. They’d left Egypt; they’d found physical and religious freedom. We are looking here at the birth of a self-determining nation.
And the first things they do are to establish the core rules and values which are to inform their society – the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Torah – and to build their first piece of civic infrastructure – the Sanctuary.
What’s interesting about the passages we’ll read today is the involvement of the whole community. As we will read, each individual did what they could, and gave what they could, to the construction of the Sanctuary – contributing their time, their skills or their assets. This was a collaborative effort towards a shared communal vision, on a voluntary basis and on a massive scale. Democratic. And inclusive.
And it says a lot to us, particularly today, as we struggle to balance work, family and community life: that we all have to give, that we all have to participate, in order for us all, as society, to benefit.
But what to make of the first passage we will read, setting out the commandment to keep the Sabbath? The documentary theory put forward by Julius Wellhausen suggests that various traditions were edited together over time into the Torah we have. Is this version of the commandment to keep the Sabbath an example of that theory?
Or is it perhaps an important reminder? – that even to build the Sanctuary, one cannot break the Sabbath; that society must respect its rules and its values as it goes about its business - at every level; that the end does not justify the means.
So today, as we celebrate our shared communal values, as we reflect on and reaffirm our place in society, these passages suggest that we all have a role to play as individuals. Each of us is member of the community, but also a leader of the community and a shaper of the community. Privately and publicly, we should set an example by our behaviour and help form the type of society we all want to live in.