Rabbi David Segal
Aspen Jewish Congregation
22 August 2014 • Parashat Re'eh
Natasha Kotzubei Bat Mitzvah
Pelican Hill Resort • Newport Beach, CA
In a setting like this, it's easy to feel like you're away from it all. Beautiful spaces, the ocean view, the food and drink – it all makes this like a paradise village. In places like this, you can really feel the transcendent.
That's why, I think, in this week's Torah portion God is so worried about the sacred sites of the tribes living in Eretz Yisrael, and commands the Israelites to destroy them all, "on lofty mountains and on hills or under any luxuriant tree" (Deuteronomy 12:2). There's an anxiety that we will start to worship them, as in, all hail the god of Pelican Hill! I'm joking of course, but breathtaking places and spaces do something to us, something profound. The setting matters.
Our tradition often pictured God in a Palace, because in the ancient mind, the most powerful thing was a king. Preparing for entering the Promised Land, the Israelites receive the command not to worship any longer however they please, wherever they please. Now it's time for a temple, THE Temple, centralized in Jerusalem. One true palace for the one true King.
But the Israelites and we Jews also learned the hard way that palaces crumble over time, and they can be destroyed. So we learned a new way to meet God, to connect spiritually and in community.
It's how Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described Shabbat: building a palace in time. Making the effort to set aside a moment and to invest the intention to make it as transcendent in time as a palace is in space.
Space matters, too. Don't get me wrong. Coming here to mark this life cycle milestone makes it special, sacred, memorable. We can create a feeling here that is unique to this special place. The challenge, then, is how to sustain and cultivate that sense of the sacred, so immediate here, in our everyday lives.
A Hasidic rebbe once taught: just as, when looking at a beautiful mountain (or ocean view), a mere thumb placed in front of the eye can block the whole thing from view – so too does our every day routine obscure the holiness that surrounds us in every moment.
And so, an invitation, a challenge, for all of us: can you be so present this weekend, as witnesses to the miracle of this threshold moment in Tashi's life, that the sacredness of it continues to resonate throughout the next week, month, year, more? Can we, inspired by this palace in space, learn to be architects of sacred time, building a palace where we can dwell in holiness no matter where or when we find ourselves?
Shabbat shalom. May we find peace and wholeness together this weekend, and may we carry it with us when we leave this place.