July 16, 2020


7.17.2020 Weekly Torah Portion

The veil between life and death is thin, and sometimes we see just how thin it is – how fragile each of us is.  Sam’s death last week.  The deaths of others in our extended community.  We have looked straight through that very thin veil, and many of us see ourselves on both sides: “that could be me,” or even, “I wish that were me.”

Within Beit T’Shuvah, we often preach “to save one life is to save a whole world.”  Sometimes, I remember that I am that world, that I can save my life, that I matter.  And sometimes, I don’t.  These words are etched in our sanctuary, but so many of us have not been in that sanctuary for so very long.  Physical isolation and separation have made our worlds small, and some of us are forgetting that we are a whole world, that we matter.

The deaths in and around our community, the grief that we ourselves experience or that we witness in others reminds us that each of us is so, so very precious.  It reminds me that I am so, so very precious.  How will we care for what’s precious?

Money, a job, a car, a house – those can help, but they don’t inherently protect what’s precious, and they can be used to destroy it.  Even love itself cannot protect.  As a mom, I wish it did, but every parent learns at some point that love does not inherently protect our children.

What does protect what’s precious, as much as anything can, are the refuges we build for ourselves.

At the end of parashat Matot-Masei, we are introduced to “cities of refuge.”  In the world of the Torah, when someone is murdered, the murder would be avenged by a “blood avenger,” someone from the murdered person’s household.  The blood avenger would pursue the murderer even if the death had been accidental.  Cities of refuge are whole cities to which accidental murderers could flee without worry of the blood avenger killing them.  Whole cities set up for the explicit purpose of providing protection.  In these cities, the Talmud tells us that there should be

  • water available within the city walls,
  • markets,
  • people of different vocations,
  • a Torah scholar,
  • and no selling of weapons or hunting traps.

Refuge must have basic physical and social necessities and wisdom beyond oneself.  It must not allow the buying and selling of weapons, in order to prevent further destruction, whether of oneself or another.  In recovery, we call this a program: physical necessities, community, wisdom/learning, and abstinence.

Your refuge is your program.  And your program is saving your life.

In the past week, many of us have thought or said: “I need to look at my own program,” or “I need to have a program set up before I leave Beit T’Shuvah.”

The veil between life and death is thin, and when you see yourself on the side of life and on the side of death, this is the time to recommit to your program, your refuge, your life.  A program itself is not magic, and it doesn’t protect us from everything – even someone in a city of refuge can be bitten by a snake or gored by an ox (#torahlife).  But working a program does protect us from ourselves – because it reminds us that we matter.  We matter enough to show up to group, to write that 4th step, to struggle out loud, to show up for a friend who is grieving, to let a friend show up for us when we’re struggling.

You are precious.  You are the world that we – you, me, our Beit T’Shuvah community – are saving.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kerry