2017-08-30 / Religion Column

Dreams and aspirations must be grounded in reality

Asst. Rabbi/ Temple Beth Sholom

Parashat Ki Teitzei
Deut. 21:10-25:19

I have been thinking a lot recently about dreaming. Moving to Cherry Hill and beginning as the assistant rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom is a dream come true for me. I am also thinking about dreaming as it pertains to this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Ki Teitzei. In the Torah portion, B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) are positioned just across the Jordan River and are preparing to enter the Land of Israel. We can only imagine their enthusiasm and excitement as they get ready to finally enter the land of their dreams.

Yet, in this moment of anticipation, what does Moses say to them? He enumerates one mitzvah (commandment) after another—no less than 72 in total—law after law about how to treat the widow, the orphan, the captive, the hungry, the slave who is fleeing his master, one who suffers from skin disease, and more. In a moment where we might expect Moses to paint a picture of the land of their dreams, Moses instead chooses to engage in the ultimate reality check. He wants to prepare the people for the life and the land that await them around the corner. It is not a perfect life, but rather a life full of potential. Perhaps more than it is the Promised Land, it is a land filled with promise.

Like B’nei Yisrael, with Rosh Hashanah a mere three weeks away, we too are on the precipice of something full of promise and excitement. We dream: “This is the year that I am going to get it right. This is the year I will live into my best self. This is the year I will be a perfect parent, spouse, child, or friend.” These aspirations are healthy and necessary for our growth, but like the dreams of the Israelites in our Torah portion, our dreams too must be grounded in reality.

We are constantly working to improve ourselves and to grow. As the Kotzker Rebbe (19th century Poland) put it, to live a life of Godliness means to constantly “work on yourself.” However, this work is intensified now in preparation for the High Holidays. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg draws an apt analogy in his book “The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays.” He writes: “…just as the month before summer is the time when Americans go on crash diets, fearing how their bodies will look on the beach, so Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah became the time when Jews went on crash spiritual regimens, fearing how their souls would look when they stood naked before God” (188).

As we engage in our own spiritual regimens and prepare to stand before God, let us never stop dreaming, all the while remembering that we must never lose touch with reality. Let us turn inwards and then turn to one another as we engage in the holy work of striving to grow and improve each and every day. And finally, let us remember an important lesson from this week’s Torah portion: Our lives are not perfect. They never will be. Yet they are filled with tremendous potential. During this month of Elul, as the shofar is sounded each morning, let us ask: How can we activate our potential in order to move towards our dreams?

Wishing you and your loved ones a Shana Tova—a good year filled with love, growth, and dreams fulfilled. 

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