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{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

A sense of place, especially God’s place, is frequently too far, inaccessible, and unreachable. The man, who lost his job and money, loses his place in his community, if not his home. A sick child stuck in a hospital away from her family loses her sense of place. The desperate mother who enters a synagogue for the first time in years to pray for that sick child will often feel out of place. A young man, leaving the safe walls of Yeshiva to work “out in the world,” will struggle to find his place.

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A child, with whom parents are angry or who overhears parents arguing, a student in trouble at school, a couple experiencing tension, all feel out of place. Israeli families that live close to Gaza and are too terrified to return home, have lost their place. European Jews, experiencing the open anti-semitism on the streets, have lost their sense of place, as have we, post Tisha b’Av, when we mourned the historical destructions of Jerusalem. And yet, now, as we begin the approach to Rosh Hashana, hear God calling us home. What are those who have lost their home to do?

We can, of course, find our place in the abstract and ethereal. Yet, we are warned, “Beware for yourself lest you bring up your elevation offerings in any place that you see (Deuteronomy 12:13).” The Ha’amak Davar explains that one who seeks to elevate his relationship with God will strive to do so wherever he is, but must do so only in a place that is set aside for such elevation, such as the Temple, synagogue, or study hall. What are we to do when we cannot go to the Temple, and when we feel out of place in a synagogue or study hall?

This week’s portion, Re’ei, speaks of our need for a sense of place, how difficult it often is to find, and how we must protect others’ sense of place. It also guides us in how to manage the experience of no place. It addresses the sanctity of the Land of Israel, private altars, and the proper place to eat sanctified foods, a place for the blood of slaughtered animals, the wayward city, and the Pilgrimage Festivals. We are taught to be sensitive to the poor person’s loss of place, and forbidden from eating a fish that carries its home, its place: shellfish.

Our experience of distance from the proper place is described in the laws of the Second Tithe that must be eaten in Jerusalem. “If the road will be too long for you, so that you cannot carry it [Second Tithe], because the place that God, Your Lord, will choose to place His name there is far from you, for God, your Lord, will have blessed you, then you may exchange it for money, wrap up the money in your hand, and go to the place that God, your Lord, will choose (14:24-25).”

There is a step in our service of God that encourages us to wrap up all the moments, insights and experiences that lack a proper place, so that, when found, we can bring them to the right place.

I recently read a quote from J.G. Ballard, “One of the things I took from my wartime experiences was that reality was a stage set. The comfortable day-to-day life, school, the home where one lives and all the rest of it, could be dismantled overnight.” I realized that when moving from one city to another, changing jobs, or while in extended stays in hospitals in Argentina and Germany, I have always sought to find my place in things that could not be dismantled. I find my place when I wrap myself in Tallit and Tefillin and pray, when sitting at a Shabbat table, and, most of all, when I study Torah. I then wrap up those experiences by incorporating them into my regular prayers, studies, and service. I hold on to those places inside of me, waiting for the opportunity to bring them to that place that God will choose for me. I carry those places inside of me, much as Noah grabbed a vine from the Garden of Eden to carry on the Ark and replant in the new world so that the Garden would remain a real place.

When Rosh Hashana begins to call out with the Elul Shofar blasts, its invitation to come home, I hear it in all those internal places I have managed to wrap up. As long as those places inside resonate to the call, I know that I will one day reach that place that will never be dismantled.

Shabbat Shalom

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