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D'var Torah

5/23/2019 by Rabbi Raskin

Dear Friends,

Have you ever wondered why our synagogue is named “Har Shalom?” I certainly did, and soon after becoming the rabbi of this shul I started asking around about the origins of our name. I heard various theories and explanations, but one was particularly interesting. Someone told me that Har Shalom (which of course means ‘Mount of Peace’) sits on the highest point of elevation in Potomac. I have never tried to verify that with a geological survey or topographical map, but it sure sounds like a good story! This week’s parasha could be the official parasha of Har Shalom, as it is called “Be’Har” or “on the mount.” Of course the mount referred to in the title of the parasha is none other than Mount Sinai. One of the interesting features of Mount Sinai (unlike that great tale about our synagogue’s name) is that it was not chosen as the location of the revelation of Torah because it was the tallest mountain in the world. A wonderful Midrash imagines that God went to all the mountains of the world, interviewing them, so to speak, as God contemplated where to give the Torah to the world. God chose Mt. Sinai, says the Midrash, precisely because of its undistinguished, rather lowly qualities. Mt. Sinai became a metaphor for humility, and Torah and humility were meant to go hand-in-hand. It’s no accident that Moses, the greatest prophet in Jewish history, the human being who knew God best, was also referred to as “anav mi’kol adam,” the humblest person ever to live.

One of Judaism’s most attractive features is that it doesn’t overstep theologically. We are not a religion of hard-and-fast dogmas or catechisms. You can’t be humble and assume to know every mystery of the universe, every figment of God’s will and imagination, or every detail of what the future holds.

In a synagogue community, humility means there is ample room for people of different backgrounds, levels of knowledge, observance, and faith. It means listening intently to others who have different opinions, philosophies, and political leanings. Being humble means searching for common ground in our sacred community, rather than allowing our differences to drive us apart.

Just this past week there was a meeting of the membership. Actually there were three meetings: to approve the Nominating Committee’s slate of directors; to approve the budget; and to approve various changes to the synagogue by-laws. I recall that when I first came to the shul these annual meetings were fairly contentious and tense. This meeting was anything but. Questions were asked politely and with sincerity. There was a spirit of collaboration and progress from beginning to end. By the conclusion of the meeting(s) I was awash with the feeling that our shul has truly experienced healing, coming closer as a community, more resolved than ever to pursue a bright future together. Like Har Sinai, our greatness was manifest in our humility and cooperation. I said a short prayer of thanksgiving to the Holy One on Monday night, thanking God for giving us all the wisdom, dedication, and humility to continue to make Har Shalom truly a Mount of Peace.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Raskin


Fri, May 24 2019 19 Iyyar 5779