The Jubilee and Me--or my visit to PowerNet NJHSA/NAJC Convention 2022

 Rabbi Philip Weintraub

Congregation B’nai Israel

May 21, 2022

Much of this week’s parsha, Behar Sinai, is focused upon the laws of the Jubilee/Yovel year.  On top of the Shemita/Sabbatical year cycle, every seven cycles of seven years was a Jubilee year.  Then not only were debts forgiven, but the land itself was supposed to be returned to its original owners.   While elsewhere in the Torah it says that slaves could choose to remain in servitude for the rest of their lives, this parsha overrides that presumption.  The rabbis define for the rest of their lives to mean--until the next Yovel year.  There are innumerable laws about how to treat those who work for you, how to treat the land, how to treat humanity.  The parsha closes:

You shall not make idols for yourselves, or set up for yourselves carved images or pillars, or place figured stones in your land to worship upon, for I י-ה-ו-ה am your God. 

אֶת־שַׁבְּתֹתַ֣י תִּשְׁמֹ֔רוּ וּמִקְדָּשִׁ֖י תִּירָ֑אוּ אֲנִ֖י י-ה-ו-ה׃ {פ}

You shall keep My sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary, Mine, יה-ו-ה’s. 

Most years, we immediately follow those verses with next week’s parsha, discussing rewards and punishments for our choices, the consequences for our actions.  This year we must wait to hear those words.  Instead our focus remains here.  What does it mean to avoid idolatry?  What does it mean to keep the Sabbath?

I just returned from a powerful conference. There I contemplated some of these issues.

 As a member and board of Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains, I joined them and the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, which Gulfcoast JFCS is a part of.  I witnessed Gulfcoast receive an award for its CALL program.  Don’t know what that is?  It is an amazing resource here in our city.  It is a partnership between Gulfcoast and the St Pete Police Department.  Dispatchers accept calls and reroute some of them directly to the CALL team at Gulfcoast.  Rather than sending a police officer with badge and weaponry, they send a trained social worker to meet those in mental heath crisis, drug oversdoses, suicide intervention, truancy, homeless complaints, neighborhood disputers and truancy.  The Community Assistance and Life Liason Program has been remarkable--and both the community and the St Pete Police are very happy about it.  In the last year, CALL has served over 3000 people and completed more than 5300 contacts.  While suicide calls were up 60% in 2021, completed suicides were down 17%.  That is truly remarkable.

In addition to honoring Gulf Coast, I was able to see what Jewish chaplains across the country are doing to support their communities.  I learned about addiction in the Jewish community, how communities are dealing with antiSemitism,  chaired a certification committee for now board certified chaplain, met with leaders in the Rabbinical Assembly and honored colleagues doing incredible work.   Additionally we learned about the history of the Minneapolis Jewish community and powerfully saw the place where George Floyd was murdered.  Hearing from a social worker who is both black and Jewish, we were reminded of the diversity of the Jewish community, and how these different aspects of our identity can help us navigate the world.

From the Jewish human service agency side of the conference, I saw how Jews have built agencies across the country to follow the ideals of this week’s parsha.  They work to ensure the wellbeing of people of all races, creeds, genders, sexualities to live the best lives they can.  They fight to get people out of poverty and into sustainable living situations.  They care for the mental, spiritual and physical health of their clients.  Yet, their work is never done.  Just like in the days of the Torah, there remain those who desperately need help and health.  Just as our Torah strives to imagine a more perfect world, it ALSO gives us practical steps to continue the endeavor of making a more perfect world.

Near the George Floyd memorial site is a symbolic graveyard, with stones for victims of racist and racial violence, like Emmet Till.  Seeing those stones reminded me of this week’s parsha.  This world is not yet a perfect world AND we must take breaks to restore ourselves.  The Sabbath remains vital for ALL of us.  We cannot fight at all times.  We cannot fight for justice, for civil rights, for women’s rights, for Jewish rights (during May this Jewish American Heritage Month), for ANYthing, if we do not ever stop to breathe.  

This week’s parsha reminds us that we MUST stop periodically.  Whether that stop is on Shabbat, taking the time to pause and reflect and restore our souls.  Whether that stop is a Sabbatical year, engaging ourselves.  Whether that stop is the Yovel, pausing after the cycles of seven years, we need to rest in order to pick up the mantle once again.  

As we look to this year’s celebration at CBI, let us prepare ourselves!  We rest, restore and work to ensure that we can find and create blessing in all of those years!

אֶת־שַׁבְּתֹתַ֣י תִּשְׁמֹ֔רוּ וּמִקְדָּשִׁ֖י תִּירָ֑אוּ אֲנִ֖י י-ה-ו-ה׃ {פ}

You shall keep My sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary, I am the Lord