Rabbi’s Corner: Summer Challenge Check-In

At the end of May, I proposed a “Summer Challenge” (see below for details). This challenge has no bounds: it is for everyone, every age, and every circumstance. It can be approached as a philosophical exercise, an emotional exercise, a spiritual exercise, or just simply to challenge yourself.

We are now one month away from Labor Day, one month until the Summer Challenge is finished. I encourage each of you to participate, it will be good for your body, mind, and soul. Why do I think this challenge is so meaningful and important? The answer can be partially answered by our Torah portion this week, Eikev.

Eikev, reinforces the idea that in order to prosper, both as individuals and as a people, we need more than just food, money and material possessions. The well-known passage from Deuteronomy 8:3 states: “A human does not live on bread alone, rather on anything that the Eternal decrees.”  

As humans, we need to be sustained not just by food, shelter and water. It’s important to “feed our minds” and strive to expand our horizons by studying, reading and learning something new. We need to care for our bodies while experiencing God’s natural world. We each only possess one body, and our physical well-being is a partnership between us and God. Building and maintaining meaningful relationships, both with others and God are an essential part of life. As we’re told in Genesis (2:18): “it is not good for humans to live alone.” Modern philosopher Martin Buber said: “In every interaction, we have a choice to view others as fellow humans with whom we share the basic essence [of life], or as things: pawns to be moved, scenery for dramas, obstacles in our way, or a competitors to be vanquished…when we view others as fellow humans, God will dwell in those relationships.” Finally, it is essential to look outside of ourselves, to do something to make this world better than we found it through acts of “g’milut chasadim, tikkun olam and mitzvot.”

Abraham Ibn Ezra (Medieval Spanish rabbi, commentator and scientist) explains our Torah text by saying that humans are sustained by what emanates from the heavenly spheres, and these emanations are spiritual in nature. How do we interpret this? Do we, as humans, emanate from the heavenly spheres and thus, we sustain one another through our relationships and our relationship with God? Is there an element of spirituality that emanates from the heavens which is necessary for us to seek out, in order for us to be sustained, thrive and survive? What do you think?

Therefore, while at first glance the “Summer Challenge” may not seem so significant” – it is deeply rooted in our Jewish tradition. Participation enables one to be intentional and thoughtful about our actions, to reflect back on the impact they have made and are continuing to make on one’s life, and inspire each of us to strive to live up to our highest potential.

I encourage each of you and every member of your family to join our “Summer Challenge” if you haven’t already. I think that every one of us has achieved some, if not all, of the four parts. I encourage you to keep a short journal, noting for each of these four activities:

  • What you did;
  • How did these experiences make you feel;
  • What did you learn;
  • What do you want others to know about your participation in this challenge.

I would find it very meaningful if you can please email me your journal. In the “subject line” of the email, please write: “Summer Challenge – (Your First and Last Name)”: rabbisobel@tbsoc.com

Please forward it by Labor Day (or earlier). I hope to reflect on our collective experiences in either a Rabbi’s Corner or a High Holy Day sermon. I look forward to hearing from you!

The Four-Part Challenge:

  1. Read a good book– expand your mind and soul.
  2. Make a new friend– cultivate, nurture and sustain our relationships.
  3. Take a long walk– be intentional in this. Caring for our bodies enables us to fully and completely participate in life on many different levels, while allowing us to experience God’s glorious nature simultaneously.
  4. Do a mitzvah(an act of “tikkun olam” repairing our world) – something to make this world a better place, something to help someone and make them smile. And/or, a ritual act: lighting Shabbat candles or making Kiddush, attending Torah study or Shabbat services, learn how to blow the shofar (if you need ideas, please contact me).


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