Hard Decisions

on Friday, 11 February 2011. Posted in Rabbi Marshall's Sermons

Parshat Tetzaveh II

What is the hardest decision you ever had to make? Did you agonize about it endlessly? Did you wish you had an oracle to provide guidance?

 

During rabbinical school, a fellow student worked at a Reform summer camp as a staff director. One evening he was caught smoking pot with a group of CIT’s. // He was immediately expelled from camp. But how should my seminary have responded? Should he be expelled? Did he already suffer significant consequences? Would the school’s decision influence his own teshuva?

How do we make significant decisions that we know will impact us or others forever? What guides us?

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This week’s parsha is about the rules for establishing the priesthood and we read explicitly about the attire of the Kohen Gadol, the high priest. Part of his breastpiece contains the Urim and Tummim, devices used to discern the will of God. It is unclear exactly what the Urim and Tummim were. Some say they are stones, gold and silver, a piece of parchment on which God’s names are written, or divine objects with all the letters of the alef-bet tucked into the High Priest’s breastplate, but they all provide divine guidance.  

What is it that gives these objects their power of divination? Is it in the material itself? Is it within the Kohen Gadol? In the intersection of the objects and the priest’s use of them?

Rabbi Michael Mellen asks, if Moses could receive God’s wisdom through a lowly bush, why must priests use these loftly objects?[1] Aren’t there ways to receive divine wisdom without possessing the Urim and Tummim?

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When you have a decision to make, how do you go about it? Do you mull it over at length, do you make pro/con lists? I often solicit the advice of others. The process for me of talking through the dilemma usually enables me to clarify my thoughts and reach a decision. And what do my most valued advice givers always do? They listen. Maybe they ask some good questions. But mostly they give me an opportunity to uncover what is in my heart. They affirm my own voice.

Do the Urim and Tummim give direction through their own will or divine wisdom, or is something deeper occurring? As Rabbi Mellen concedes, oracles typically require interpretation. And even when an oracle is most forthcoming, truth seekers must still come up with the questions to ask. Oracles need input. Even in instances when an oracle provides an answer known to be true, the meaning behind the answer often remains unclear, left up to human interpretation.

Maybe the Urim and Thummim were mysterious objects resting close to the heart of the High Priest because they were simply vehicles that facilitated his discovery of what was in his heart all along. The Urim and Thummim act exactly like our most trusted advice-givers, helping us to create a space for our own heart to respond.

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So what happened to my classmate in rabbinical school?

The school decided that this student would need to take a year off, seek counseling and engage in service to the Jewish community. He actually ended up resigning from the Reform seminary and is now at another rabbinical school.

In my classmate’s case, a decision was being made for him, but the process of facing a decision can surface values, agendas, fears, and dreams ­you’ve never confronted before, or it can send you down paths ­you’ve long avoided. Some decisions can be deeply challenging, as they “require” us to come clean with others about what we truly believe and how we want to live.

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The V’Ahavtah commands, v’hayou hadvarim haeleh, asher anochi mitzavcha hayom al l’vavecha, that the words of Torah “be on our heart.” When we create a space for our own Urim and Tummim, we find the words we need. The answers are ours, drawn m’levavcha, from out hearts.

                                                            Shabbat Shalom.



[1] Michael Mellen, “Held Close to Your Heart,” Union for Reform Judaism Living Torah, vol. 10, no. 20, March 11, 2006. http://urj.org//learning/torah/archives/exodus//?syspage=article&;;item_id=5045.