A Leap of Faith: Shabbat Eikev, Friday, July 30, 2021

Here we are, reaching the climactic scenes of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Indy has found his father, kidnapped by the Nazis (and as we know, he hates those guys). His father has been deliberately shot to force Indy to pass through three deadly trials to reach the Holy Grail, whose cosmic power of giving eternal life the Nazis seek to possess.

Indy has cleverly solved the riddles of the first two tests; only one now stands between him and this powerful relic. “Take a leap from the lion’s head” – the test now commands of him. As he rushes to complete the task, he is stopped in his tracks. The “lion’s head” is an image carved into a sheer rock face that empties out into a bottomless and wide chasm. It is impossible for him to jump to the other side, where the prize waits for him.

He wracks his brain for an answer, based on the clues his father has left him from his lifelong search for the Grail. Suddenly, he realizes – the “leap from the lion’s head” is not a clue in an old, dog-eared notebook. The “Leap from the lion’s head” is a leap of faith. Somehow, he must believe with all his heart that he can cross the abyss – that he can walk through thin air – even though his brain tells him it’s impossible. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath – and, instead of gingerly tiptoeing into the cavern, he raises his leg and stretches it out as far as it will go, leading with his heel.

A leap of faith. Indiana Jones knew that he could not be tentative. He could not put his toe out there as though he was testing the water in a swimming pool, where he could draw back if it was too cold.

No, a leap of faith required taking the biggest step he could, knowing his momentum would propel him forward no matter what happened.

Indy he lowers his leg in front of him. The heel comes to rest on a stone bridge that has miraculously appeared in his path, holding him up and guiding him to the Grail.

It was that heel, in that moment, that saved the Jones boys.

The heel in Hebrew is called akeiv. And the great Torah commentator Rashi – Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki – does a brilliant word play and links it to the word eikev that begins this week’s Torah portion.

עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן אֵת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים הָאֵלֶּה

the parasha begins:

Eikev: Because of – on the heels of — your obedience to these rules, and your observance of them, the Eternal your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant made on oath with your fathers. God will favor you and bless you and multiply you.”[1]

Eikev.

“If you do obey . . . you shall be blessed above all other peoples.”[2]

All you have to do, God tells the Israelites, is take that leap of faith – raise up that leg, lead with the akeiv, and stride confidently and with perfect faith across the Jordan River and into your new life.

Eikev. I’ve done my part, God says. I’ve gotten you this far. I’ve given you all the tools and all the rules. Now it’s your turn.

Moses reminds the people of the long way that they have traveled in the wilderness these forty years, the tests that God has given them to prepare them. But God also had given them total protection: from hunger, from thirst, from attack. Would they, Moses asks them now, be prepared for the challenges that await them on the other side of the river? Had they really evolved, on this long journey, into a nation that could be self-ruling and self-sustaining in the Promised Land?

Eikev. You need to take that leap of faith, Moses says. Not only your faith in your God. But your faith in yourselves, and in one another.

In the past year and a half, many of us have felt like we have stood on that precipice, looking out into a yawning and unending darkness, with no clear path forward. At first, we packed up the Temple, set up our home studios and thought – we can do this! A few weeks on an iPad, and we’ll be back by late summer, for sure.

But late summer turned into late fall, into winter and into another year. We had such high hopes this past spring, and came back together this summer, like this, as safely as we could.

Now, with the Delta variant exploding in communities with low vaccination rates we are once again witnessing the horrors of hospital beds filling up, ICU units expanding, and front-line medical personnel exhausting what little strength they had left. School systems are being encouraged to re-impose mask mandates. Cities are requiring vaccination of their workers, and even the federal government is saying to their employees: get the shots, or deal with the limitations of being unvaccinated.

We know we are vulnerable here in Blair County, with only half our adult population vaccinated. Months after we thought we’d be free, our faith in one another is being tested like never before.

I imagine the Israelites felt this way. Moses is reminding them that they have often behaved selfishly in the past – and I can visualize the people standing there, giving each other side-long glances and thinking: “That would be you, neighbor. Thanks a lot, buddy.”

Here’s Moses trying to cajole, coerce, and plead with a stiff-necked people to get their act together and think of each other. To get out of their comfort zones and do the right thing for the community. We can relate to that, can’t we?

Eikev. Patients who are now hospitalized with COVID are begging their doctors and nurses to give them the vaccine – and are being told, I’m sorry, it’s too late for that. Their families are horrified: We thought it was a hoax, they say. We thought it would never come here. We thought it really wasn’t a big deal.

Eikev. Our Torah reminds us: Never forget what you have seen with your own eyes. More than six hundred thousand Americans have died. Infection rates and deaths are rising again. It IS a big deal.

We’re all trying to do the right thing here. But I’m sure you’ve noticed that we’re missing a few regulars. And it breaks my heart that they’re not here.

It breaks my heart to know there are congregants who want to be here, now, but are afraid.

It breaks my heart that so many stiff-necked people in our own community can’t see how their lack of care affects so many other people.

It breaks my heart to tell our Religious School parents that their kids will need to wear masks when they come back into our classrooms.

It breaks my heart to know that we as a congregation – we who have worked so hard for so long to feel that warmth and joy that comes from being together – that we are once again being left on the precipice by events that are largely out of our control.  But that could be controlled if more people just cared.

And it breaks my heart to hear so-called leaders of any faith tradition telling their people to reject masks and vaccines because, somehow, God will provide. As though God isn’t already providing, as doctors and scientists use their God-given abilities to work beyond the limits they thought possible, and to create the miraculous vaccines that have saved untold lives.

It breaks my heart because Judaism is not by any means the only faith tradition that teaches that we must care for one another – each and every one of us, and particularly the most vulnerable among us.

The Torah uses the examples of the orphan, the widow and the stranger. But we would also include the very young, the elderly, the sick, and the ignorant and the selfish – who sometimes have to be saved from themselves.

Eikev. We’re always looking in Torah for guidance for our own lives. This one little word uttered thousands of years ago rings in our ears today – powerfully reminding us of what we can do when we believe — in God, in ourselves, and in each other. Like the Israelites of old, we can be the nation we were meant to be. All it takes is that leap of faith.

Kein yehi ratson. Let this be God’s will and our mission on earth. As we say together: Amen.

#####

©2021 Audrey R. Korotkin


[1] Deut. 7:12-13.

[2] Deut. 7:12, 14.

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