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Rabbi’s Update 8/11/2023

Dear Friends:

Last Friday night I spoke about the second paragraph of the Shema, the original biblical text of which appears in last week’s Torah portion:

13 “If you will only heed his every commandment[a] that I am commanding you today—loving the Lord your God and serving him with all your heart and with all your soul— 14 then he[b] will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil, 15 and he[c] will give grass in your field for your livestock, and you will eat your fill. 16 Take care, or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshiping them, 17 for then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will not yield its produce; then you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.

18 “You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise up. 20 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.

I discussed modern “scientific” objections to this passage because “everybody knows” that the weather does not depend on whether or not we follow the mitzvot. But a more sophisticated reading of this passage tells us that the environment is indeed dependent on our behavior and that our actions matter. The mitzvot are not just about keeping kosher or observing Shabbat; they deal with how we treat each other and how we treat this world which we inhabit and which has been entrusted to us and our care.

This week we see how deadly our failure to properly care for the Earth can be. The island of Maui in Hawaii is on fire. Fifty-five people have died and authorities warn that the death toll is likely to rise. As Hawaii’s governor Josh Green, M.D, (who is Jewish) said: “climate change is here, and it’s affecting the Islands.” Let us increase our efforts to reverse climate change and at a minimum not continue to make things worse.

As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.

As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Charles L. Arian

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