A Bissel of This and That
Recently, Rabbi Maya Leibovich and her husband Menachem visited Temple Beth-El and led our Shabbat service, as part of our Guest Rabbi program, which is generously funded by the Ravitz Foundation. Rabbi Maya was the first Israeli-born woman ordained as a Rabbi by Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem in 1993. She served as founder and leader of Kehilat Mevasseret Zion outside of Jerusalem for 22 years and retired in 2014. Since then Rabbi Maya has been serving as “Summer Rabbi” at Temple B’nai Israel (TBI) in Petoskey, MI, with her husband Menachem serving as lay cantor.
The day of Rabbi Maya’s visit was Tu B’Av (15th day of Av) which is the Jewish day of love, celebrated in both ancient times and in modern-day Israel. Rabbi Maya stated, “It is the love expressed on this day which I hope will serve as an antidote to vain hatred of all kinds.” She further explained that Rabban Shimeon Ben Gamliel, the Head of the Sanhedrin (1st century, just before the destruction of the 2nd Temple) described the day in Mishna Ta’anit (4:8): “Never were more joyous festivals in Israel than the fifteenth of Av…, for on them the maidens of Jerusalem used to go out dressed in white garments and thus they went out and danced in the vineyards saying, young men, look and observe well whom you are about to choose (as a spouse); regard not beauty but rather look to a virtuous family ‘for gracefulness is deceitful and beauty is vain, but the woman that fears God, she is worthy of praise’ (Proverbs 31:3).”
Although we followed our regular Shabbat liturgy, Rabbi Maya included several interactive moments, and called on individual members in the congregation to read aloud sayings or proverbs about love that they had prepared as “homework”. While one individual read William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”, another shared Sculptor Ann Truitt’s definition of love: “…the honoring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows for mutual discovery, of each person, not only on a daily basis, but on a moment-to moment basis. In this way, the experience of love is an existential possibility of becoming.” Excerpts from Song of Songs were shared as well.
During her D’var Torah, Rabbi Maya spoke about love, which is central to the Torah portion-Va’Etchanan in Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11. The portion begins with Moses’ love of the land promised to his people. He pleads with God to “let him cross the Jordan river, just to touch the land, just to feel the beginning of a mission accomplished. It is unfortunately, for this great leader, an unfulfilled love.” Rabbi Maya went on to explain how “love is central in the relationship between God and His people Israel”, saying this love is expressed in the form of a covenant, as Moses explains to the Israelites: ”The Eternal, our God, made a covenant with us at Horeb (or Sinai). It was not with our ancestors that the Eternal made this covenant, but with us, the living, every one of us who is here today. Face to face the Eternal One spoke to you on the mountain out of the fire. I stood between the Eternal and you at that time to convey the Eternal’s words to you for you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.” (Deut. 5:2-5) After these words, Moses proceeded to repeat the ten commandments.
Rabbi Maya discussed the Sh’ma- “Hear, O Israel! The Eternal is our God, the Eternal alone”-and how “the hardest commandment” is found right after the Sh’ma, namely the command to love God, where it states: “You shall love the Eternal with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” She stated that this is a “demand to give all we humans have for the love of God” and asked “How can one perform such a mitzvah? How does one express the love of God?” and then went on to explain, “To me, the answer is in love of the other as in the command to love thy neighbor as thyself. Love of God flows through love of all creatures born in the image of God. To be consecrated to the Eternal means to be loving, kind and moral human beings. When God chose us of all nations, His intention was that we shall be a model of humanism and ethical behavior: ‘For you are a people consecrated to the Eternal your God: of all the peoples on earth the Eternal your God chose you to be God’s treasured people. It is not because you are the most numerous of peoples that the Eternal grew attached to you and chose you-indeed, you are the smallest of peoples; but it was because the Eternal loved you.’ (Deut. 7:6-8)”
Rabbi Maya concluded her D’var Torah, saying “Acts of kindness and love are powerful. They change our lives. ‘All you need is love’, sang the Beatles. Indeed all we need is love of each other whatever party, gender, color, or faith. Love of God is love of mankind, or to be more politically correct: Love of God is love of humankind.”
At the end of the service, following “Adon Olam”, Rabbi Maya and Menachem led us into a chorus of “All you need is love”. Thus ended a delightful, inspirational, and thought-provoking service, which made us only want Rabbi Maya, Menachem and other members of Temple B’nai Israel congregation to visit us again soon.