D’var Torah: August 2016

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By Mitchell Schneider

The following d’var torah was presented at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Board of Trustees Meeting on August 18, 2016.

My talk today is inspired by a discourse on this week’s Parsha given by Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber as presented by Yenki Tauber.

The Parsha V'etchanan is filled with subject matter. Moses continues his recounting to the Israelites of all that has happened since the people left Egypt, the giving of the 10 Commandments, the revelation at Sinai, the wandering and discord, and of particular note to me for today, he recites a verse that has become (I think) the single most known phrase of our tradition.

For Jews in Israel, for Jews in the Diaspora, for secular Jews, for Haredi Jews, and for everyone between, I would venture to guess that every single one knows the recitation of the Shema.

Shema Israel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad. Hear/Listen O Israel ‐ Lord our God ‐ the lord is one.

My thoughts today are focused on this verse – the Shema.

And in particular ‐ on the word Echad – one  the notion of the unknowable singularity of God. None of us can comprehend the notion of a singular, infinite, all encompassing deity.

However, in the act of Creation, God's infinite nature emanates into the world and is reflected in boundless diversity. And, here, we human beings have the opportunity to catch a glimpse or a glimmer of holiness in observing the vast diversity of creation around us.

But not always. In fact, most of the diversity we see appears to result in conflict, in chaos, and in what we might call evil. Conflict in the natural world, competition between species, wars between nations, and most certainly conflict amongst people seems to be the norm.

And yet, at times, if we look deeper, or when the right structures and frameworks are in place, harmony can result from this diversity. The natural beauty of a sunset, random notes brought together in a beautiful symphony, a peace treaty among nations, a government that expresses the will of its people, and co‐operation amongst individuals that results in the betterment of many.

These all harmonize an otherwise chaotic world. And when we see this harmony, we, in a sense have that chance to glimpse the divine. God's singularity and diversity – harmonized into a unified whole.

This Federation, its professional and lay leadership, all of us, I believe, are a part of a structure that transforms our diversity, our disparate interests, and our chaotic energy, into a structure that allows us to do God’s work together.

We care for our elderly, our sick, and those in need. We educate our children. We plan for our future. And we extend our reach around the world providing care, support and assistance in countless ways to our people around the globe.

From diverse backgrounds and with many beliefs and traditions, we, in this room, come together to create a better world. We harmonize our diversity to do God’s work. And if we step back for a moment, in this place, in this work, we can catch a glimpse of the divine. Echad. Our Unity. May we continue this work for generations perhaps fueled by our universal capacity to recite the Shema. No doubt, we are – stronger together.

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