Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pledging the Shema - Parshat Vayechi

Much has been made of late of the aging and declining of the Conservative Movement and what to do about it.  How do we not just pass on to a new generation our love of our understanding of  Judaism, but how can we make it alive to them, make it spread and grow?

The final words of the elderly Jacob speaking to sons in the parshah this week give us some advice and guidance.  Just before he is about to die, Jacob summons his children to gather around his bed. He tells his sons, "Come together, that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come." Then, rather than beginning his list of predictions, he inserts the comment, "Assemble and hearken, O sons of Jacob; ve-shim'u el Yisrael avichem (Hearken to Israel, your father)."

The Midrash notes the wording of this remark, its seemingly extraneous placement, and suggest that Jacob says these words, to which his sons respond by reciting the Shema prayer, "Hear O Israel the Lord is our God, the Lord is One" and to which Jacob says in gratified response, the line we say when we recite the Shema today, Baruch shem... "Blessed is the Name of the Glorious Kingdom forever and ever."

Thus we learn something for when we say the Shema, something to guide us in thinking of how we pass on and shape our legacy:  

For “the sons” the younger generation, we need to be able to say this proclamation of faith sincerely, and think of the legacy of our elders; do we say the Shema as the twelve sons did in a way that honors what our elders hold dear?

And for the older generation – is what we are doing going to make the younger generation hearken to us as Jacob was able to do?  Are we setting the example for them so they can respond truthfully, “We hear you!”

Pledge with me – when you say the Shema, to think of these things and how you can in the future, help forge and help strengthen the bonds we feel between each other, wherever you stand in the great chain of the Jewish people.

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