D’var Torah at the GMC: On what God wants of us in this transition

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 17 July 2023

As you would imagine, I have been reflecting a great deal on transition, on what happens next.

As we begin this meeting, which is the first since this period of change began and my first real opportunity to speak since I announced I was moving to another role, I wanted simply to express a hope.  In fact, my greatest hope for Alyth for the next few months.

Which is that through this period we are kind to each other.  That we treat each other with care and respect.

This is paramount for me.

Partly because I care deeply about the people in this room. I care deeply for those who give their time in service of Alyth, who do so for no reason other than love of this community. And I care for those who come to Alyth in search of learning, prayer, volunteering, and community. So, it matters to me that we look after each other.

It also matters because how we are with each other speaks to who we are as Jews.

I have dedicated my life to this work because I think our tradition has something powerful to say about who and how we ought to be.  That its voice is one to which we should pay attention.  And it makes a demand of us now in how we interact in community:

That we treat each other with honour. To quote Pirkei Avot, ‘eizehu mechubad – ha-m’chabeid et habriyot’- ‘who is honoured – the one who treats others with honour’. Not the one who is powerful, or rich, or able to best with words, or shouts loudest, but the one who is decent in their interactions.

And alongside honour, that we seek to be at peace with each other, to love and care for one another: ‘Be among the students of Aaron’, we are told, ‘ohev shalom v’rodeif shalom – loving peace and pursuing peace’, ‘oheiv et habriyot – loving God’s creatures (i.e. each other)’.

Judaism demands of us that we are reflective about what we say; how and when we speak; how we use our power and influence; how our words will affect someone else, even what we think about each other: ‘Heveih dan et kol ha-adam l’chaf zechut – Be one who judges every person favourably’ – that is, we are asked to assume the best of each other.

This is not to suppress disagreement – Judaism is a tradition built on loving and respectful argument. But to guide us on how we might disagree.

If we think Judaism matters – and if we do not then why are we here? – we must recognise that it is incumbent upon us to embody these ideals: not only when our lives are straightforward but also when things are more complex as they are now.

So, that is my hope.
That through this period we are kind to each other. That we treat each other with care and respect.
Not only because the quality of our relationships matters above all else, but because it matters above all else to God.

Ultimately, I don’t think it matters to the God of our texts how Alyth is structured, who the next rabbis of Alyth might be. These are not the criteria by which we will be judged in heaven, as important as they might feel to us.
God wants humankind to act in God-like ways.
What is important to God over the coming months is simply that we are decent with one another.