Re'ei: A Summons To A Town Hall Meeting
People at town hall meetings about Obama-Care are challenging their congressional representatives. Tempers are flaring. People are tossing all sorts of accusations at each other. The town hall meetings do not seem to work too well unless perfectly choreographed by the White House.
We had town hall meetings in Yeshiva. The entire student body would gather for a “Pumbi” – a public test of each student’s accomplishments in learning. The test was often followed by the Rosh Yeshiva asking each student whether there was anything the Yeshiva could do to improve student life. Many students would make suggestions. The administration would listen and then nothing would change.
I remained silent when the Rosh Yeshiva asked me for suggestions. “I have nothing to say.” The Rabbi was, for some strange reason, surprised: “Since when do you have nothing to say.” “Since nothing I say will matter.”
He didn’t like my response. He even lowered my grade on the test from an Aleph (A) to a Gimmel (C) because Gimmel begins the word Ga’avah – arrogance. Imagine that!
I haven’t spoken up at a town meeting ever again. I did preside over such a meeting in Lincoln Square Synagogue. I intended to control the discussion so that we would avoid any Lishon Harah. I failed horribly. It was not one of the better nights of my life. People rightfully felt that I was censoring their words. I was for what I believed were good reasons. So: no more town hall meetings for me.
There is a major town hall meeting introduced in this week’s portion, Re’ei; the entire nation would gather at Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Eival soon after crossing the Jordan into Israel. Half the tribes would stand on one of the mountains and the other six tribes would stand on the other mountain facing them. The Levites would congregate in the middle and would read the blessings and the curses in the Bible. They would face Gerizim and recite the blessing and the entire nation would respond “Amen!” They would then turn towards Eival and read the curse that corresponded to the blessing, and the entire nation would respond “Amen!”
This week’s portion doesn’t list the blessings and curses that would be read at this great town hall meeting. In fact, it does not even describe the ceremony. The verse simply says that one day it would happen. The people would gather for a town hall meeting at which they would accept mutual responsibility for each other. For some reason, perhaps to warn the Simcha Weinbergs of the time, the Torah simply informs the people that there will be a town hall meeting with blessings and curses. Why?
I must create a system
Or be enslav’d by another man’s
I will not reason and compare:
My business is to create.
There is a difference between a town hall meeting that is called to deal with a problem and one that is the first step in the creative process. The meetings I attended were focused on a wicked problem. Those in the news are to deal with a difficult issue. As Blake said, it is to be enslaved by another man’s system.
The gathering at Gerizim and Eival was the beginning of a creative process. It was a celebration of the future that Israel had as they prepared to settle their new land.
The Torah was telling the people that they would have opportunities to celebrate their future, much as we celebrate Rosh Hashana at the beginning of the year rather than the end.
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