William Hamilton

Look forward by looking around

“Escaped from the House of Bondage, Israel of old did not follow after the ways of Egyptians…To her were given new things under the sun.”  The great writer Melville captured America’s forward facing posture toward a promising future.

Yet looking back is necessary in order to help us know how to look forward.  The first week of June found America looking back to June of 1944.  Israel too looked back to June of 1967.

This week we were invited to look up.  First with anniversary of the Mt. Sinai revelation on the Festival of Shavuot.  Now, today with America’s celebration of Flag Day.  Gazing upward toward a vision of ‘a city on a hill’ is what we do best.  Looking up feels particularly important at a time when we spend so much of our time looking down at our smartphones.

To look up more effectively we first need to look around.  Summer invites us to get outside more.  Outside of ourselves.

Is it conceivable that things like music, love, order, and beauty come from something lifeless, inferior to you and me?  Why should we assume that the Being who made us and sustains us is incapable of that which we are capable of – sensations like feeling, caring, concern?

In the wake of Sinai’s thunderous Ten Commandments, we meet the blessings of a deeply personal God in this week’s portion of Torah. “May God bless and keep you.  May God cause God’s face to graciously glow upon you for good.  May God turn God’s face toward you and make you whole” (Num.6:24-26).  As an often prayed blessing, the focus on second-person-singular is rare for our liturgy which almost always prefers second-person-plural.  So blessings for safety, goodness, and wholeness, are channeled from a God who turns toward you singularly and personally.

Amidst the clamor of continuing crises, it can be hard to sense the deliciousness of Divine goodness.  As we look forward to replenishing summers, may we take our blessings personally.  And then may we go outside and gently share them with those all around us.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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