Divrei Torah by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Where Does the Temple Begin?
Where Does It End?
Embedded in our Jewish psyche is the structure of our Temple- the place that God chose to dwell with us and the place for us to experience that connection, the axis mundi of our religion. Our rituals are infused with memory of the Temple that once stood, the Temple that was destroyed and the 2000 year old longings for a Temple to be rebuilt. Where does the Temple begin? I ask, along with Mary Oliver.
She answers: Where does it end?
Is not this magnificent earth a dwelling place for the Divine wherein we can experience sacred Presence?
Or is it not?
As we are all grieving for the innocent children who were slaughtered in their own school on Valentine’s day, I ask myself, how can we rebuild the shattered Temple? How can we rebuild our world with a foundation that rests upon compassion? How can we not accept this as the new normal? How can we keep our hearts open when surrounded by horror and grief?
This week Torah speaks to us saying: V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham, make for me a holy place and I will dwell within them. God says: Make a place for me to dwell within you.
In light of the events in Florida and in countless schools all over our country we must ask ourselves, how do we create such a place, in ourselves and in our communities? How do we rebuild a shattered Temple?
Our tradition answers: Sh’ma- Listen. We can begin by listening, by recognizing those within our own communities who are suffering. Listen closely to the words and actions of those around us. Acts of violence do not emerge from people who feel loved and supported. This we know. There were many things that many people knew about this perpetrator, this young man. People knew that he was an orphan, that his mother died a few months ago. People knew he had a history of violence. People knew he had threatened to shoot up his school. And after a physical fight at his school, he was expelled, cast away.
If there is one thing we can do, it is to listen closely to those who are embittered and angry. The anger always comes from pain. The angry person is the suffering person. It is essential to recognize that each person at their core, needs and wants to feel loved and accepted. Each time we refuse to listen - each time we slam the door, we increase the pain and the anger. Our challenge is to see beneath the anger to the pain and bring forth a compassionate response rather than another rejection.
It is easy to judge that which makes us uncomfortable. Compassion is certainly a more difficult path but it is the only path to creating a safe community. The Ba’al Shem Tov teaches that there is a root of goodness that exists in all people. Oftentimes it is clouded by anger or fear. Let us seek out that root of goodness most especially in the people who we find most challenging and difficult. A compassionate response can be utterly transformative and it can save lives.
Where does the Temple begin?
It begins with the way we respond to those in our community who are suffering.
Where does the Temple end?
At the edge of a closed heart.
My prayer tonight is that we might open our listening hearts to hear the pain that stirs beneath the anger and to develop the capacity to respond with compassion and connection.
Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Rabba Kaya served as Interim Rabbi of RJC from October 2017 through June 2019.
More about Rabba Kaya