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Ask Big Questions

When the twelve scouts returned from their reconnaissance mission into the Land of Israel and reported to Moses and the Israelites, ten described the fortified cities they saw and deduced that “we’d look like grasshoppers in their eyes.”  Only two – Joshua and Caleb – were courageous enough to encourage the people with “Alo Naaleh!  Let us surely ascend!”

According to *Midrash Tanchuma the ten scouts of this week’s parashah misinterpreted the walls of the fortified cities.  They presumed the high walls were a sign of the overwhelming strength of the “giants” living within them.  They concluded that the Israelites would never be able to successfully return to the land of their ancestors, the land of their promise.  But our Sages teach that the walls were, in fact, a sign of weakness!  That is, a person who closes him or herself off behind thick walls is weak, not strong. A strong person allows for vulnerability and exposure.  Moreover, such strength gives way to even greater strength, because exposure to new ideas and to healthy pressures from the world outside cause us to learn and grow.

The relevant Hasidic teaching in *Toldot Yaakov Yosef (on Parashat Bo) suggests that a truly strong person is one who comes from beyond her walls and walks outwardly among other people.  A truly strong person comes out from behind his walls, saying, “Maybe I will see something that I can fix.”

Safely Coming out from Behind our Walls

The walls of our homes are protecting us now from exposure to a very real and deadly virus.  And, after three months, many are noticing the dangers of staying inside – mental health risks, the breakdown of relationships, loneliness, and boredom.  Informed by public health advisories, people at every life stage are now weighing out risk against risk.  The choices weigh heavily on us.

Holy Blossom is providing so many opportunities for real connection from the safety of your home.  Through engaging study, prayer, and acts of compassion, congregants are coming out from beyond their “walls” and opening themselves to expose themselves to old-new ideas and to meet fellow congregants in meaningful ways.

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to stop us in our tracks and prompt the big questions about life and its meaning.  Our Clergy Team, including Cantor Rosen, has been thinking a lot about how to make the most of this summer and how to create additional ways for meaningful connections to take hold.

“Can we change the world through better conversation?  We believe we can.”  This is the mission driving the curriculum of Ask Big Questions, developed by Hillel and in partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism.  Each Shabbat after our morning services we’ll gather for Kiddush and Conversation over an open-ended question like: “How does technology change us?” or “Where do we feel at home?” and “For whom are we responsible?”  Each conversation will begin with a brief trigger text.  Then the floor is open for thoughtful and respectful exchange.

Our world has become divided by thick walls.  This is a small attempt to shift from debates to conversations that help us connect and strengthen one another.  We will hear one another and in turn, discover new perspectives about our own place in the world.  Week by week we will draw nearer to the High Holy Days when the ultimate questions of “What is the purpose of my life?” and “How can I do better?” are asked and answered as best we can.

I look forward to learning from you.

Shabbat Shalom, everyone.



*I thank my old camp friend, Rabbi Andy Vogel, for bringing these teachings to my attention.

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  • Rifky Rosensweig

    A question that might be a prompt for discussion might be: “What of our status are we willing to share?”

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