When I was president of the Reconstructionist Student Association at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in the late 1990s, I thought it would be good to start our meetings with a A blessing. I wanted to orient our work toward holiness and remind us of the holiness of our work. The only problem: no berakhah for such an occasion existed. As I searched for bases in the The Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes "Torah" is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general. tradition, I found the following statement in the Lit. City of peace From the time of David to the Roman destruction, Jerusalem was the capital of Israel and the spiritual and governmental center of the Jewish people. During the long exile, Jews longed to return to Jerusalem and wrote poems, prayers, and songs about the beloved city. In 1967, with the capture of the Old City, Jerusalem was reunited, becoming "the eternal capital of Israel." Still, the longing for peace is unfulfilled. The rabbinic compendium of lore and legend composed between 200 and 500 CE. Study of the Talmud is the focus of rabbinic scholarship. The Talmud has two versions, the main Babylonian version (Bavli) and the smaller Jerusalem version (Yerushalmi). It is written in Rabbinic Hebrew and Aramaic.:
רבי ירמיה אמר העוסק בצורכי ציבור כעוסק בדברי תורה
Rabbi Yirmiyah said:
The one occupied with the needs of the community is like one who is occupied with matters of Torah.
Rabbi Yirmiyah’s statement is in the context of a discussion of the hierarchy of Lit. Commandment. It is traditionally held that there are 613 mitzvot (plural) in Judaism, both postive commandments (mandating actions) and negative commandments (prohibiting actions). Mitzvah has also become colloquially assumed to mean the idea of a “good deed.": When does engaging in one Lit. Commandment. It is traditionally held that there are 613 mitzvot (plural) in Judaism, both postive commandments (mandating actions) and negative commandments (prohibiting actions). Mitzvah has also become colloquially assumed to mean the idea of a “good deed." exempt you from having to perform another, competing mitzvah? According to Jewish law, Torah study sometimes takes precedence over some other mitzvot. Rabbi Yirmiyah believed that serving the community was at the same level as Torah study. His statement made the text of my berakhah obvious. We already had a berakhah “la’asok b’divrei Torah” – “to occupy ourselves with matters of Torah.” Rabbi Yirmiyah says being occupied with community needs is equivalent to being occupied with matters of Torah. Thus:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ לַעֲסוֹק בְּצָרְכֵי צִבּוּר
Barukh atah adonai eloheinu melekh ha’olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu la’asok betzorkhei tzibur.
How full of blessing you are, ETERNAL ONE, our God, majesty of the Universe,
who has consecrated us with Your commands, and commanded us to occupy ourselves with the needs of the community.
Reconstructing Judaism commissioned the music (which can be heard on the MP3 above) in honor of David Roberts’ 11 years of service as chair of our board of governors. The lyricist and singer on the recording is Rabbi Margot Stein. The guitar player is Rabbi Shawn Zevit.