In the readings for the first Sunday of September there is one common thread, “Community.” “Community is formed by one other common thread, “Love.” “Love” in Hebrew comes from the same word as “Abba,” “Father,” and “HaBa,” or “the One Who is to Come.” The word, “Abba” “Father” implies community because where there is a father, there is generally a mother and always children. “Father” makes no sense without children.
The first reading comes from Ezekiel and it comes as a warning, but also as a warning with a pun in its center.
The word of the Personal Name came to me. Ben Adam, speak to the children of our motherland: When I bring Horeb upon the land, if the motherland take a man from among them, and set him for their watchman; when he sees Horeb coming upon the land, and blows the Tekiyah on the horn.
If the watchman see the sword come, and does not blow Tekiyah on the shofar, the people are not warned. If Horeb comes, to take any soul from among them, he is taken away in his rebellion, but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.
If he sees Horeb coming upon the land, he blows Tekiyah on the shofar, to warn the motherland; whosoever hears the sound of the Shofar, and does not take the warning, if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the Shofar and did not take the warning, his blood shall be upon him; whereas if he had taken warning, he would have delivered his soul.
You, Ben Adam, I have set you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore, when you hear the word at My mouth, warn them from Me. When I tell Russia: Russia, you will surely die, and you do not speak to warn the Russia from his way; that Russia will die in his rebellion, but his blood will I require at your hand.
There are several key terms in this passage and in the following passages. The first is Horeb. It is Hebrew for “Sword.” It is also, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Therefore, it refers to the Ten Commandments.
Moses called all of those who quarrel with God and told them, “Hear you who quarrel with God the customs and traditions which I speak into your ears, this day that you may learn them and guard to do them. The Personal Name the Mighty Judge made a Social Contract with us at Horeb, not with our fathers did he make this Social Contract but with us, each of us, who are standing here, this day, today, alive. The Personal Name spoke with you, each of you on the mountain, in the midst of the fire. I am the Personal Name your Mighty Judge who brought you out of the house of oppression, and from the land of menial labor.
From this we learn that each of us is personally rescued from oppression. We are not living in the Europe of the 19th century engulfed by the great wars, Napoleonic, and otherwise. We, many of us are not enslaved by the slavery of poverty. Some of us are. Most are not. In that sense, we are personally rescued from that oppression. From this comes the rest of the Ten Commandments. Remembering what it was like to be oppressed, feeling it in our bones, and then doing something when we see others suffer.
When we do this we create community and there is no need to remember the rest of the Ten Commandments. We will be too busy helping each other to kill, steal, or wound each other in any other way.
The Tekiyah was a plain deep sound ending abruptly that points us to the Ten Commandments and to God.
The third key term is “Russia.” “Russia,” the country did not exist yet. It cannot refer to the nation of Russia. Rosh Hashanah is the Hebrew term for the head of the year, New Years. “Rosh” means “head,” or “The First.” Russia therefore means “Those who think themselves first. The Russia are those who withdraw from community because they are better than community.
They did not suffer in oppression, in Egypt. The Russia do not know what suffering is. They are not a part of the community who suffered in Egypt. As a result, they have become cold and insensitive. The gut reaction that tells them how to behave in love is missing from them. They have become the exploiters. They have become the Sadducee and Pharaoh. God does give refresher lessons.
The opposite of Russia is “Tzaddic.” In the first chapter of St. Luke, St. Joseph the Carpenter of father of Jesus is called a Tzaddic, not because he followed the rules, but because he did not follow the rules. He put charity and his community of wife and child over the rules. Ezekiel tells us that our prior Tzaddic is no use to us if we do not continue with Tzaddic.
Ezekiel tells us that Russia, the attitude and not the place, is against the will of God and that being a Tzaddic will only help us for as long as we are a Tzaddic, as individuals and as a nation.The Tzaddic remembers what suffering is, and takes steps to avoid it for others. The reason for “The others” suffering is not relevant. All that matters is that suffering must stop.
The watchman watched for enemies of the community, not the enemy of any given person. The watchman guards for all. He does not just guard against the sword/Horeb, but for guarding and keeping Horeb/The Ten Commandments/ what it was like to suffer and therefore to make sure all remember through ritual. The watchman is our leadership when he points to Horeb/The Ten Commandments.
Ezekiel reminds us that when our leadership, religious, in private enterprise, and in political enterprise do not act as watchman, reminding each other of their responsibility to promote community, God holds their charges, leadership in private enterprise and in political enterprise responsible for not doing their job. He also holds the watchman, the religious and the leaders in political enterprise responsible for not doing their job of guarding their charges, and promoting the community as defined by the prologue to the Ten Commandments, a community rescued from over there and brought over here.