"I love you / You love me / We're a happy family!"
It's in your head, now. Or, like the endless loop of school shootings on the news night after night, maybe it never left. And perhaps, infuriatingly, this earworm still has something to teach us. In this pre-Shavuot sermon, Rabbi Deena shows us how the texts and themes of the holiday demand that we wake up to America's gun violence epidemic and take decisive action.
Join the Mishkan rabbis and Justice Team this Saturday, June 11th, at the March For Our Lives to address gun violence. You can meet us at the Pre-Rally Shabbat Service.
This sermon was originally delivered during the Saturday Morning Shabbat service on June 4th. For upcoming Shabbat services and programs, check our event calendar, and see our Accessibility & Inclusion page for information about our venues. Follow us on Instagram and like us on Facebook for more updates.
Produced by Mishkan Chicago. Music composed, produced, and performed by Kalman Strauss.
So we've talked a lot about this holiday of Shavuot. Let's talk about what it's really about. Awesome. You can still hear me, right? So the soundtrack of my childhood, it went a little something like this. I love you. You love me. We're a happy family. Right? I apologize in advance for getting that stuck in your head. The big purple dinosaur with a green belly named Barney, who would walk around singing that song, and every day I would sing that song. And now as an adult, I hear that song and I'm like, Really, Barney? Really? That's it. I love you. You love me. We're a happy family. That's all it takes is just some love for peaceful coexistence, especially in something as complicated as a family. And like, okay, maybe that's a good way to teach young kids how to form secure attachments. But any of us who have done a little bit of adulting here Barney's refrain, and we groan not just because we know we're going to be singing it for the next 48 hours. But because it doesn't really feel true. family relationships are hard and messy and complicated, and they take choice and forgiveness and accountability. Love is a necessary but not sufficient thing to hold a family together. Whether that's your family of origin, or your chosen family, or a community that you don't call a family, but it is one because they're your community. The holiday of Shavuot, which is arguably the Jewish holiday on which we most celebrate community, gives us a chance to look for Jewish answers on what makes a family and a community work and stick together. shuffleboard celebrates the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai. The moment we went from being a people to being the people to being a community defined by shared values and moral commitments. There's three core texts that we read on Shavuot the 10 commandments, the beginning of the book of Ezekiel and the book of Ruth side note, if you want to learn those texts, you should come tomorrow morning where each of the three rabbis will be teaching on one of those texts. And each one of them gives us a chance to examine this sort of Barney question of what else do we need besides love to make a community? Perhaps the most poignant one is the book of Ruth. So we're going to dive in there. The book of Ruth tells the story of a woman named Naomi, who moves to the land of Moab with her husband and her two sons who marry local women and then her husband dies and then her two sons die. And they only experienced like a famine in the land of Moab. And she says, I'm gonna go home. And initially, her two daughter in law's start to come with her. And then she says to them, Why are you coming with me? This doesn't make any sense. I have nothing to offer you go back to your homes and one of them agrees. But the other one Ruth says: do not urge me to leave you to turn back and to not follow you for wherever you go, I will go wherever you live, I will live your people shall be my people and your God, my God. Ruth's words this line has become part of the ceremony of conversion for Judaism. The Rabbi's treat Ruth as the first Jew by choice, the model for choosing what it means to be part of this community. We don't ask people who want to become Jewish to say the Shema at the moment of their conversion or the 10 commandments, or even to affirm that they believe in God we ask them to say your people will be my people and where you go, I will go. This intimate moment between Ruth and Naomi is not at all like what happened at Sinai at the moment that the Jewish people became the Jewish people. It's not like the moment of revelation that we supposedly remember it shovel out. Revelation is it's described in the Torah was a big and flashy and loud thing where the mountains shook, and there was fire and thunder and a shofar blast and the people were trembling, and all of the Israelites were gathered at the foot of the mountain. And Jewish tradition holds that all Jewish souls that ever was our will be stood there together, not just the Israelites who left Egypt, but their ancestors and their progeny. And all of us and anyone who will ever throw their lot in with the Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai in this moment when everything shook and flashed and banged and it was overwhelming. And so one of the ways that we celebrate shall vote is by throwing an all night Torah party like Rabbi Lizzi said, where we sort of study and we engage and we eat sweets and we finish with a sunrise chanting of the 10 commandments. And it's like a fitting we said yes anniversary.
But reading the book of Ruth on Shavuot takes us to the next step in becoming the people of Israel. It reminds us the importance of choosing to be part of this community. This extended family In every day, every moment where you go, I will go and your people will be my people reef says, I choose you. I choose this life, I throw my lot in with yours. And therefore you throw your lot in with mine. That more than any shofar filled gathering is revelation in action. That choice to stick together to commit to family and belonging and peoplehood is the lesson of Shavuot. And I cannot help but think that this is precisely what we are missing in the United States right now. We were a nation born on a sense of shared purpose and moral commitments. But we have wandered so far from that shared destiny. We're a month out from I love America Day, the sort of uniquely American but not really uniquely American because it's exactly what we do on shuffle vote of like flashes and bangs and a big party. But America right now feels so far from a sense of shared love or commitment. We are dying, literally dying at the altar of individual freedom. The Washington Post did an analysis of school shootings, and found that more than 311,000 students have been exposed to gun violence at school since the Columbine shooting. I'll say that again. In just over two decades, more than 311,000 students have been exposed to gun violence at school. At least 185 students and educators have been killed in their classrooms at their school, more than 369 has been injured. Less than two weeks ago, 19/4 graders died in their classroom. And no one expects that sickening tragedy to change anything for us. Those children were loved, they had families. But that love was not enough to protect them from being murdered at school. How can we teach children to put their hands on their hearts and to say the Pledge of Allegiance to a country that will not protect them from dying at school? How can we possibly think that any freedom is worth more than a child dying in school, or a pregnant person dying, who doesn't want to be pregnant, or a trans youth who doesn't believe that they can be loved? Again, and again, we have watched our elected officials and our fellow citizens love themselves more than us. More than each other. We've watched politicians choose money over shared commitments. And we are scared and we are sick. And we are literally dying, because we've forgotten what that Doofy dinosaur taught us about family. We don't need prayers, or even love to change things. We need a new revelation. We need a reckoning that forces us to love each other as much as we love ourselves. We need a revelation that forces us towards a shared commitment of well being that teaches us to bow before one another's dignity and well being and not just our own. We need to pledge ourselves to one another and not to a flag to acknowledge that if you are afraid, I am afraid. And if I am sick, you are sick. And if you are in danger, I am in danger. And if this harms me, it harms you. And if this protects you, it protects me to the only way out of this hellscape is to treat community as more sacred than any individual right, that we might want to hold. It's not easy to sacrifice individual rights for the sake of community. I'm not saying it is that's why we celebrate it. That's why Shavuot gives us revelation, both through the moment of ecstasy at Sinai. And through the I choose you your people are my people and I go where you go. These two texts teach us that building community takes both shared experiences and moral commitments.
And Ruth story ends in a personal revelation, personal redemption for her and for Naomi. Ruth ends up married to a kind and wealthy family member. They have a son together who becomes the ancestor of King David and Naomi who once lost her whole family is surrounded by her community as she holds this child to her chest and is told you are redeemed Naomi. She is redeemed from her suffering and loss because Ruth made a commitment to something bigger than herself. Ruth did not know that her sacrifice to follow her mother in law would lead to this triumphant end. But we know that we could not be here if Ruth hadn't done that. We know that Ruth and Naomi could never have achieved a personal redemption and we as a people could never have achieved communal revelation without starting from a place of mutual commitment. A few weeks ago, I quoted a teaching from the from the Talmud that I want to repeat again. A potential Jew by choice went to Hillel the sage and said, Teach me the Torah while I stand on one foot. And Hillel looked back at him and he said, That which is hateful to you, do not do on to someone else. The rest is commentary. Go learn it and go do it. I'll see you at Sinai tonight.