October 15, 2020


10.16.2020 Weekly Torah Portion

Over the past week, our Beit T’Shuvah community celebrated and grieved…together.  We enacted a virtual Simchat Torah celebration with dancing, Torah study, and re-upping our commitments to recovery.  We also gathered to acknowledge the familiar, but never explainable, experience of losing one of our own.  Our tradition affirms that life is messy and that a wide range of emotional responses – grief, sadness, and joy – are natural when encountering uncertainty and the fragility of life.

So many events in 2020 have collectively lead us to encounter (and re-encounter) the enduring truth about the uncertainties of life.  Each of us has our own moments of feeling less than safe, more than alone, and less than connected to the things that had previously anchored our spirit.  We’ve been forced to adopt new routines, cultural norms, and ways of connecting to each other.  Often our response for navigating these changes is through unhealthy behaviors: we eat our feelings, we endlessly refresh social media, we consume news stories, etc.  These are some of my escapes.  What are yours?

In spite of this, I also know how blessed I am – with safe housing, plenty to eat, secure and meaningful employment, and access to networks of support.  Even with gratitude for what I have and faith in my ability to adapt to whatever the future holds, I feel a tremendous amount of uncertainty about what our society is facing over the next month (or longer).

Election Day is 18 days away, and we all intuitively understand that the results will bring long-standing consequences far beyond what we can anticipate.  I’m not just talking about the Presidential election, but, maybe even more so, about the state and local issues on the ballot.  Among the issues that we are tasked with addressing are matters closely connected to many of us: LA County Measure J seeks to move funds away from public safety and towards public health (including addiction treatment and post-incarceration re-entry services).  CA Prop 15 seeks to raise additional tax revenue to support local social services (including addiction treatment and post-incarceration re-entry services).  CA Prop 17 seeks to restore voting rights to parolees upon their release from prison.  CA Prop 20 seeks to reverse many of the criminal justice reforms that Beit T’Shuvah worked hard to enact over the past decade.  And finally, CA Prop 25 potentially eliminates the cash bail system and replaces it with a new model.

With so much uncertainty in our lives, it’s easy to be consumed by our inner-skeptics, succumbing to apathy and/or cynicism, especially in the realm of civic engagement.  What are we to do?

In this week’s parashah, Bereishit, we read the first chapters of the first book of the Torah.  The narrative is rich with layers, all focused on the topic of creation.  We’re provided Jewish insight into the origin of our universe and our earth and our people and ourselves, and insight into relationships – both with other humans and with G!D.

And G!D said: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… And G!D created man in His image, in the image of G!D He created him… (Genesis 1:26-27).

The verses describing the creation of humans have provided inspiration, contemplation, and confusion for countless generations.  What does it mean to be created in G!D’s image and likeness?

In his essay “Death as Homecoming,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel waves off any attempt for us to truly gain a sense of the meaning of this verse: “Indeed, the words ‘image and likeness of G!D’ conceal more than they reveal.”  Nonetheless, he goes on to say,

In Judaism the primary dimension of existence in which meaning is both sensed and created is the dimension of deeds.  Sacred acts, deeds of kindness, not only imitate the divine, they represent the divine.

He was inspired by the biblical prophets’ efforts to “…understand man as a partner of G!D.”

If we take that to heart, understanding our actions and deeds as representing our connection to the Holy, then our willingness and commitment to vote becomes sacred; our casting a ballot, a sacred activity.  Facing our fears about the uncertainties of the future, to vote is to put our beliefs, values, and interests into action.  Voting is also a statement of acceptance of the imperfection and brokenness in our world.  It’s an act that acknowledges that the current state of affairs isn’t good enough and needs to be better.  We humbly affirm the limits to our power (we only get one vote), while putting our faith in a process and power greater than ourselves.

An election never provides us with the perfect candidate, the perfect ballot measure, the perfect choice.   Nonetheless, we have the right, privilege, and sacred obligation to make our imperfect choices count by participating in the process.

The last day for registering to vote is NEXT Monday, October 19th


If you are looking for proposition endorsements, take a look at the LA Times:


Shabbat Shalom!

Adam Siegel