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V’etchanan 5773 – Crossing Lines

Being a young baseball fan, my son is having a hard time getting his head around the concept of an All-Star game. All of the players and teams have been playing so hard against one another (especially those hated Yankees) and then they just stop in the middle of the season and play with each other? Then in a few days they are going to go back to playing against each other? Seriously? When, where and which lines we cross can be a confusing concept for a young baseball fan.

Even for those of us who can wrap our heads around the idea of baseball’s midsummer classic, still may have a tough time with other kinds of lines and the conditions, variables and situations that mandate crossing them or not. Ask President Obama. As president he looks around the world and sees turmoil, injustice, cruelty and violations of basic human rights. When is it the right time and what is the right way to cross the lines between sovereign countries and governments and say something or do something? Ask any Jewish person who cares about the land of Israel. We look across the ocean and see things we love and see things that seem dissonant from our deepest values. When is the right time and what is the right way to cross that line of loyalty and support and offer loving and respectful critique and feedback? Ask any human being. We see a family member or dear friend in trouble (or at least what we perceive as trouble). When is the right time and what is the right way to cross the line to say something that may not be heard or understood and quite possible may injure that person or the relationship?

Unlike baseball’s mid-summer classic, there are no clear and fast rules that tell us when to cross what lines. These life decisions vary, change and depend upon the particular relationship, situation and other variables at play. Then how do we know the right time and right way to cross those lines between us and those around us? In this week’s Torah portion, V’etchanan (from the book of Deuteronomy), we find what may be the most often recited verse in Jewish history: The Shema. “Listen Israel, YHVH/Adonai is our God, YHVH/Adonai is One.” The Shema is not a declaration of monotheism, but something else. It is a declaration of Israel’s relationship to this deity – that YHVH/Adonai is the ONE and ONLY understanding of divinity for the community called Israel. ‘YHVH/Adonai is OUR god.” This declaration is Israel’s attempt at definition and differentiation. This declaration of self-understanding guided, guides and continues to guide Israel as it grows, loves and acts.

In wondering when and how to cross the lines in our lives, we all need what the Shema provides Israel – an understanding of who we are and where we begin and others end. There is not a steadfast template as to when to step on or over those lines between us and others. There is no handbook that guides us how to constructively involve ourselves in the problems of a friend – whether that friend is another country or another person. In each of those moments of decision perhaps the most helpful template is having a clear understanding of how each of us understands the nature of justice, compassion … of divinity.

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