Guest Comment: Rabbi David Levin, “What do you believe in?”

Editor’s Note: Rabbi David Levin was a recent guest on Boomer Generation Radio, Rabbi Address’s program on WWDB-AM 860. He offers this guest commentary for Jewish Sacred Aging readers.


Why is God so deeply aggrieved in the portion of the Torah known as Shlach Lecha?  He is incensed, livid.  His anger is almost overwhelming.  God is disgusted with the people and His disappointment goes to His core.  We often back away from anthropomorphizing God, but we can learn much from God’s anger in Shlach Lecha. What cuts so deeply?

In Numbers 14.11 we hear the anguished God preparing to lash out.  God asks Moses:

“Why do the people despise me?  Why don’t they believe in me, despite all the signs of my presence I have shown them?”

God is disappointment is palpable. Why didn’t the people believe in Him?  This begs the question of us:  What do we believe in?

Many have studied the words Shlach Lecha, God directing Moses to “Send, to you.”  The word lecha, to you, at first glance seems redundant, already contained in the word Shlach. Possibly it serves to make the command more emphatic.  But possibly the word indicates something inside ourselves.  The command “Shlach” is not only about going forth, but also going within, lecha.  In other words, we are admonished that we must have a core.  We need something, some kind of grounding as our center.  Otherwise we are like buildings built on sand. With no footings or core, the structure cannot stand.  The shifting sand underneath will make it collapse.

This grounding is a central issue of we the Baby Boomer generation.  We may or may not practice a faith or even believe in God.  But the fundamental questions are there nonetheless.  We grapple with the existential questions about meaning and purpose in our lives.

The Synagogue can be a place where we can explore these issues with others.  We are not alone in our quest; there is a body of wisdom that can guide us, and that is Judaism.  The synagogue is traditionally built on three pillars.  It is a house of worship, a house of gathering and a house of learning.   So the opportunity to be in community and learn how others have approached the questions we have is part of the fundamental mission.  The synagogue is not just a place to go pray.  It is a place to build relationships.  That was how I found myself where I am today.

I wanted a place to be with others.  After a while away, I missed having things Jewish in my life.  So I sought a place to be with community.  For me it began on a Friday evening, as that was a good night to find someone in a synagogue.  The rabbi approached me after services and we went back to his study to chat some more.  Over his desk was the lance from his time onstage performing in “The Man of LaMancha.”  “A ‘Song and Dance Man’” I thought to myself, “this could be interesting.”  And thus began my reentry into synagogue life.  I made new friends and became actively involved.

I worked on social action issues and started making Friday night a special evening of dinner with friends and being in community to reflect and enjoy.  I ate at the Oneg Shabbat, worked on planning and ate the snacks, started the Mitzvah Day project and planned the barbeque; I even sang and eventually was a pinch hitter for the Cantor or Rabbi.  I made friends and I even created family.   It was a wonderful time and the launching point for something more.  For me, I realized that the beauty and wisdom of the Jewish tradition created a very meaningful understanding of life. Having it provides a comfort and guide in times of trouble and a community to share both good times and bad.

Judaism became something I wanted not only for myself, but something I wanted to share with others.  And here I am, a newly minted rabbi hoping to continue and share the traditions that have proved himself or herself so valuable for so many for so long.



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