Earlier this week I had the awesome opportunity to teach about teshuva and restorative justice from this incredible new resource, Handbook for Jewish Communities Fighting Mass Incarceration. In preparation I reflected on a class I took in rabbinical school about Prison Ministry. One of the guest speakers was a pastor who had dedicated her life to homeless ministry.* This minister came to speak about the connection between incarceration and homelessness, and told me this story:
Every Sunday morning she would pack a backpack with a few granola bars and bottled water. But mostly she put brand new pairs of socks, still in their packaging. Rather than giving them directly to people she would meet who might need them, she would give them to some of her (homeless) parishioners so that they could give them to someone else. She explained so profoundly I can still hear it, "Generosity is a human need; it in fact humanizes us."
Our capacity to be generous is connected to our sense of dignity. This is perhaps why generosity of heart, nedivut halev, is the starting place for the building of the mishkan. This is how we begin to make room for the divine presence in our midst. This is how we claim a life as b'nei horin, liberated people.
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel-Pekudei, Moses instructs all of the generous hearted among the people to bring offerings to the Holy One – gifts of silver, copper, and gold, blue, purple, and crimson wool, animal skins, oil, spices, wood, and precious stones. The response from the people is an extraordinary outpouring of creativity. The people respond with such overwhelming generosity that they have more than they need.
This is the truth and magic of community. And I have felt it deeply at Kol Tzedek. Our collective generosity is powerful. In the words of Paul Rogat Loeb (a quote I keep coming back to in my own journey!),
"Abundance is a communal act, the joint creation of an incredibly complex ecology in which each part functions on behalf of the whole and, in return, is sustained by the whole. Community not only creates abundance – community is abundance. If we could learn that equation from the world of nature, the human world might be transformed."
I am always learning and relearning this. An orientation towards abundance is radical in this world. Generosity is resistance to a culture of scarcity. This shabbat I invite you to cultivate a sense of abundance in an area you perhaps habitually feel scarcity; abundance of time or resources, food or forgiveness. Where might you be able to offer a generosity of heart and how might it transform your connection to the Whole and the Holy?
Ometz Lev tonight will be hearing from a representative from HIAS, talking about how our community can be part of the ecology that sustains and supports refugees in this political moment.
Thank you to everyone who gives generously to Kol Tzedek. We are all sustained by your time, effort and resources.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Ari Lev
*I share this knowing I have personally never been homeless. Yet I have friends who have been and I know that members of our community have been as well. I know we are diverse in our experiences of class and home, and have been taught different messages around what is enough.
You can search Rabbi Ari Lev's blog below:
Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek Synagogue through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.