In Our Virtual Mishkan

Board Meeting D’var Torah March 26 – Maddie Axelrod

A few months ago, I was sitting in services and started flipping through the less-frequented areas of the siddur. I got to the section on “blessings for the home” – what to say when you put up a new mezuzah, what to say before bed and on waking up – and I came across the blessing for the children.

It says – for the boys, ismecha elohim k’Efraim v’k’Menashe, may God make you like Efraim and like Menashe. And it says, for the girls, isimech elohim k’Sara Rivka Rachel v’Leah, may God make you like Sara, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.

That blessing is part of our family’s weekly Shabbat ritual; for decades my brothers and sister and I have received, and now my husband and I say, those words almost every week. But seeing it in writing somehow made me look at it a bit differently. In italics, the instructions: for the boys and for the girls. Maybe it was my new responsibility of raising a daughter that made me consider this deeper, but the thought occurred to me that perhaps this blessing might be unnecessarily gendered. Surely whatever qualities Efraim and Menashe had that we wish for our boys, we should wish for our girls too.

So I decided to start a new tradition, to each week bless my daughter Zephie to be like all six of those ancestors.

And then I thought – well, why stop there? There are plenty of other heroes in our Jewish past and present with qualities we should hope to emulate. Why not embrace some modernity along with all that tradition?

So now, each week we include an additional figure in our blessing. We might say –

  • Isimech Elohim k’Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose incredible strength of body and mind guide her to make just choices each day.
  • At Purim, we said, isimech Elohim k’Vashti, who stood up for herself and didn’t let a man tell her what to do (even when he was her husband and the king).
  • Or isimech Elohim k’Jonathan Safran Foer, who strives to use his intellect and creativity to save our planet and its creatures.

In a couple of weeks’ time, we’ll be celebrating Pesach. One hero of the Pesach story is, of course, Moshe, who leads the Jews out of slavery in Egypt, through the desert, and towards the promised land of Israel. He is the figurehead, the CEO, the capital-L Leader of the Israelites. 

There are many qualities of Moshe that we might wish for ourselves as board members to emulate:

  • Moshe had integrity, refusing to remain silent when he saw a slave-master beating a Hebrew man.
  • When God tells Moshe of His plans for him, he shows humility, saying “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh?”.
  • But he goes, and he then demonstrates great courage, standing up to, effectively, his own brother Rameses to demand freedom for his people.

We should hope that in our roles on this board, guiding our community through and beyond a period of transition, we should strive to be like Moshe.

But you might say – well, why stop there? There are plenty of other heroes in the Pesach story, with qualities we should hope to emulate as leaders. 

To consider just a few:

  • Bat Pharaoh, Pharaoh’s daughter who found baby Moshe floating in the Nile, demonstrated goodness, virtue, and great strength of character, when she insisted on using her position of privilege to do the right thing, even in the face of her own father’s cruel decree.
  • Nachshon ben Aminadav was fearless: after fleeing the Egyptians and faced with an endless Red Sea that God had not yet split, he walked into the waters without hesitation, leading by example for the Israelites to believe as he did despite the uncertainty before him.
  • Miriam was optimistic and positive, having the foresight to bring her instruments along when the Israelites fled Egypt, so that she could eventually lead the exhausted and likely trepidatious Israelites in joyful song and dance once they’d crossed the Red Sea. She gave them energy and inspiration at a most crucial turning point.

Each of us today needs these qualities. We need them for Holy Blossom Temple as we navigate beyond our time of transition and settle into this next piece of our history. We need them as humans as we face a very real and very scary new reality, with no sense of how long it will last or what will come next.

And so we might say, as humans, Jews, and board members of Holy Blossom Temple:

  • isimanu Elohim k’Moshe Rabeinu, May god make us like Moses our Teacher, whose integrity, courage, and humility guided the Israelites into their next chapter;
  • isimanu Elohim k’bat Pharaoh, whose capacity for goodness and love steered her through a difficult decision;
  • isimanu Elohim k’Nachshon, whose fearlessness enabled his peers to simply put one foot in front of the other; and
  • isimanu Elohim k’Miriam, whose optimism and positive energy kept spirits up during a very trying time.
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  • Cheryl Sylvester

    Yashar koach, Maddie! What an inspiring D’var Torah! May you and the leaders of the Holy Blossom Board act with the wisdom and guidance you invoke, to lead our congregation from strength to strength. Shabbat Shalom,

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