We sat in the newly renovated sanctuary on Beth Ahm synagogue today, listening to a beautiful rendition of the Torah portion as bright late-summer sunlight streamed in from the colored glass windows.

The storytelling in today’s Torah portion was long and involved, seeming in some ways not to connect.

Stairway to heaven

Spiritual readings can be like that. One topic gets introduced, on the heels of another, and while they may not seem on the surface to relate, the point of connecting them makes them relate.

Today, we read about Moses telling the Israelites how they will enter the Promised Land. How they would stand on mountaintops and answer amen after each statement, a series of curses, then blessings, then curses again.

It’s understood to mean that if the Jews follow the rules, life will be good and successful. If they don’t, life will fall apart and it will be unbearable.

A lot of it had to do with sex – don’t sleep with the wrong people, etc., etc. As if we need to be told not to “lie” with a sibling or a parent-in-law. (Although if you watch enough Law & Order, you realize we do, indeed, need to be told.)

Morning Light RaysAnd then the Haftarah, the last in a series of readings designed to comfort us after the hideousness that comes every summer leading up to Tisha b’Av. In that comfort, we are reminded of light, light, light – find the light, see the light, illuminate our lives.

The light metaphor runs far and wide. It’s one that I personally love.

Hearing of all the possible terrors that could befall us if we don’t abide by the law can get a person down. It can seem like nothing we do is right or rewarding, and so when encouraged to see the light streaming in through the windows, and the smiles on people’s faces just because you’re there alongside them, we remember that the littlest things we do could bring the greatest joy.

I’ve been rereading Governing Business & Relationships by Swami A. Parthasarathy, where he says that we must choose a line of work that aligns with our talents and passions, otherwise we will spend our lives toiling in dread.

On the drive home from synagogue, Asher and I sat in the car talking. I mentioned that sometimes, I just can’t understand how or why people came to walk this earth. I mean, really, why are we even here?

He cited the theory of evolution, that our existence was in some ways inevitable. I then said that the religious theory, that a supreme being plunked us down here to glorify him, doesn’t work for me either.

There has to be something more to the mystery, some obvious reason why we exist.

“Well,” said my lovely son, “to help people. We are here to help people.”

And that led us to discuss how, if you choose a profession according to your interests and talents, how can you direct it away from glorifying yourself (i.e. amassing millions to buy all the latest toys and technology you can get your hands on) and focus your pursuits on helping others?

“Well, we’re only human,” he pointed out. And I had to sigh.

Yes, we are only human.

Our religious calendar gives us opportunities throughout the year to rise above being only human, and one of my biggest is coming up in a week.

merry christmas lights abstract circular bokeh on blue backgrounIt is a time when we reflect on the prior year, on our choices and decisions, on our words and deeds, and ponder whether we made the right ones or if we should have chosen another direction.

In a little more than a week, we will be called to synagogue to hear the wake-up call of the shofar, the ram’s horn that is blown like an instrument to wake us up from the slumber we move through most days of our lives.

Arise and pay attention, it calls to us. Notice what you haven’t noticed. Take a stand, make a difference, make conscious choices, own your decisions.

It’s not too hard, really. It’s about being present and in each moment, noticing whether we stand up for right or stay quiet in its face out of fear.

The Torah portion listed a line of horrible curses, then the cushioning reassurance of  a long line of blessings. And then, the curses again.

Because, we are only human and we have very short memories. It is easy to forget, easy to stumble in the fog of humanness.

So hard – and so simple – to rise above it.

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