sunset at new york city
Back to Stories & Articles

Toward Shabbat: Vayera

An old, popular Spanish saying, “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres”—“Tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are” maintains that we can know a person’s character and values by looking at who that person chooses to associate with. There is much truth to this saying, and while we do not necessarily have a say about all those who surround us throughout our lives, our choice of friends, community, and workplace says a lot about who we are.

A Jewish version of the Spanish saying, however, would go like this: “Tell me what your commitments are and I’ll tell you who you are.” I believe that we can learn more about people, and learn about them at an even deeper level, by looking at the commitments people take upon themselves. What are their loyalties and allegiances? What are they bound by and for what do they hold themselves responsible? To what do they devote their time and their resources? That will tell you who they are. That will tell you who you are. And that will tell you who we are as a community.

“The Bible taught us that life without commitment is not worth living,” said Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Indeed, the entire Bible revolves around the idea that life must be lived in committed response to a call: God summons us to bind ourselves to God and, equally significant, to each other in a covenantal relationship, an eternal and sacred relationship of mutual obligation and responsibility. The idea of covenant (“brit”) is at the center of Jewish community in general and, by extension, of our BJ community in particular.

It is a significant challenge to be a spiritual, covenantal community at a time when the individualistic ethos of self-reliance, independence, personal autonomy, and the prioritization of the needs of the individual over the needs of the group as a whole, is so dominant. When materialism is so overpowering. When stepping outside our individual concerns and freely embracing mutual obligation and responsibility, being there for others, sharing of oneself, and committing together to cultivating our inner depth are hardly the currency of our day. And yet, what would a community like ours be without that aspiration and that pursuit?

Last year, 5782, was a sabbatical year, the year of shemita. Seeking a deeper connection to our community, to humanity, to the earth, and to the divine, we studied together throughout the year and engaged in acts of creative moral imagination as we considered the world in which we currently live and envisioned the world that could be.

And, we re-envisioned the BJ community we want to co-create and be part of.

Through learning, conversation, and surveys, BJ members reflected on the values and aspirations of our community. Over 400 BJ members contributed to the forging of our new BJ Community Covenant. Twenty-six BJ members served as Covenant Readers, representing different ages, stages of life, length of connection to BJ, Jewish perspectives, and involvement in the community. This diverse group read and reflected on all the input that had been collected and together distilled the input into core values, articulated ways for those values to be manifested in the life of our community, and reviewed and edited successive drafts of the covenant. In addition, BJ staff and the members of the Board of Trustees also had opportunities to bring their perspectives to the conversation. The final Covenant document is the product of the commitment and thoughtfulness of so many, and we are grateful to all who participated and shared their longings and insights.

We are proud to share BJ’s Community Covenant with the community on this special weekend of our first-ever community Shabbaton, a unique time to connect and deepen bonds with community, to open up the soul to search for God, and to renew and imagine a more perfect world.

Please join us tomorrow morning at Shabbat services, when Felicia and I will read and discuss this sacred document, containing the highest aspirations of our BJ community.

J. Rolando Matalon

Written By J. Rolando Matalon

José Rolando Matalon, B’nai Jeshurun’s senior rabbi and rosh kehilah (head of congregation), was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and was educated in Buenos Aires, Montreal, Jerusalem, and New York...

View Profile