Vayera 5783 – Barcheinu
עָזְרֵנוּ וְהוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ שֶׁנִּזְכֶּה תָּמִיד לֶאֱחֹז בְּמִדַּת הַשָּׁלוֹם, וְיִהְיֶה שָׁלוֹם בֵּין אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ וּבֵין אִישׁ לְאִשְׁתּוֹ. וְלֹא תִהְיֶה שׁוּם מַחֲלֹקֶת בֵּין כָּל בְּנֵי מִשְׁפַּחְתִּי
Help us continually hold onto the attribute of peace. May there be peace between a person and their fellow, and within our own families, and may our family not be selfishly divided.
The end of the Torah service at a typical Conservative congregation often feels like it drags on and on: A prayer for the congregation, a prayer for our country, a prayer for Israel, a prayer for peace, etc. Growing up, I would recite them along with the congregation by rote memory. But a few years ago, I was directed towards an additional prayer sitting nestled at the end of this long series, simply titled, “a personal meditation. The prayer is attributed to Rabbi Nathan Sternhartz, who was the scribe and chief disciple of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
The words are a prayer of hope and intention, not directed towards the community but towards the individual. At first this individual prayer seemed like an outlier after all of these communal prayers. When I looked more closely, however, I realized that this prayer is actually the ideal way to end this series: it is directed at the individual to realize the responsibility and autonomy each one of us has to actualize these prayers. It is up to you, to me, to each one of us to make sure these prayers come to fruition – God can’t do it alone.
This is what God is telling us and telling Abraham in this week’s parsha, Vayera. Abraham pleads with God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if God can find 50 righteous people within the city. God agrees. The Chassidic rebbe Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa focuses on these words, “within the city,” “בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר”. He says,
לֹא דַּי שֶׁיִּהְיוּ צַדִּיקִים חוֹבְשֵׁי סַפְסָל בֵּית הַמִּדְרָשׁ, אֶלָּא צַדִּיקִים שֶׁהֵם בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר
It is not enough for these righteous people to be “benchwarmers” in the Beit Midrash, rather find people who are within the city, mixed in with all the rest of the people, dealing with the world as it is and even so still working and remaining righteous! Only then will God save the city on their behalf.”
Righteousness is not a state of being that one achieves and maintains forever, rather it is a constant effort that can only be actualized through the continuous work each one of us does in the world. This is how we create a more just world, a world filled with peace and companionship and unity. It is up to us to work towards this vision. Today is election day – one of many opportunities to engage in this process of making our country and our world better. Please vote! Don’t be a benchwarmer, be a human who lives and engages “within the city.” Be someone who makes this world worth saving.