Sacred Books – Sacred People

by Rabbi Jodie Siff

This week’s Torah portion is from the first few chapters of the last book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, Devarim. It was one of the great moments of personal transformation for Moses, and it changed not only Moses but the community he lead in the desert.

For the final month of his life, he stood before the assembled people, and delivered the series of addresses we know as the book of Deuteronomy or Devarim, literally “words.” In these addresses, he reviewed the people’s past and foresaw their future. He gave them laws. Some he had given them before but in a different form. Others were new; he had delayed announcing them until the people were about to enter the land. Linking all these details of law and history into a single overarching vision, he taught the people to see themselves as an am kadosh, a holy people.

If someone who knew nothing about Judaism and the Jewish people were to ask you for a single book that would explain both who Jews are and why they do what they do, the best answer would be Devarim. No other book so encapsulates and dramatises all the key elements of Judaism as a faith and way of life.

That is how I felt when I received the book in my honor. That this book, like the text of Deuteronomy, encapsulates our relationship, and our unique community at RSNS. This book, which was carefully created by Susan Hicks, Dinah Kramer and with help from Barbara Schaffer, Jeff Seide, Shahrzad, and Liza, serves as a beautiful tribute to our synagogue community and highlights the profound impact we have on one another’s lives. It is a testament to the strength and unity of our congregation.

As I poured through the pages and read the heartfelt messages and stories, saw the pictures, I was reminded once again of why the work I do as your rabbi is so vital. Our community is a tapestry of diverse individuals, each with their own unique experiences, backgrounds, and stories. Yet, we are bound together by a common purpose and shared values.

This book is a living tribute to the transformative power of our community. It codifies our celebrating joyous occasions to supporting one another during times of sorrow. Reading and re-reading the book made me feel that we have created a space where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued. It helped exemplify that RSNS is not just a place of worship; it is a sanctuary of love, compassion, and understanding.

The book captures the essence of who we are as a community. It reflects the countless acts of kindness, the profound moments of spiritual growth, and the deep connections that have been forged. It is a testament to the collective connections of each and every member.

My deepest appreciation to everyone who contributed to this beautiful book. Your words and sentiments have touched my soul, and I am profoundly grateful for the love and support you have shown me throughout the years. This book will always hold a special place in my heart and serve as a reminder of the incredible bond we share.

Through the addresses we read in the book of Devarim, Moses gave the people the answer to why they should exist as people. They may be small but they are unique. They are the people who, in themselves, testify to something beyond themselves. They are the people whose fate will defy the normal laws of history. Other nations, says Moses, will recognise the miraculous nature of the Jewish story.

Moses knew that the people he had been part of liberating would one day suffer exile and persecution again. So he planted a vision in their minds, hope in their hearts. RSNS is fulfilling that ancient vision. May our community continue to grow and flourish, and may our collective efforts bring light and inspiration to all those who seek solace within our synagogue’s embrace.

Please come into RSNS to explore the pages of this inspiring book!

With heartfelt gratitude,

Rabbi Jodie