Spiritual resources: A Lenten reflection for Ash Wednesday and a d'var Torah for Parashat Terumah 5778


Throughout the season of Lent, pastors and other Christian leaders who are in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers will offer short Lenten reflections that intersect this holy time of discipline and self-determination with the ongoing struggle for Fair Food. These reflections will be released to our Interfaith Network each Wednesday between February 14 and March 28.

Today, we combine Ash Wednesday's reflection by Wesley Snedeker, an MDiv candidate at Chicago Theological Seminary and Student Pastor at Naples UCC with a D'var Torah for Parashat Terumah 5778 written by T'ruah "Tomato Rabbi" Rabbi Jessica K. Shimberg of The Little Minyan Kehillah in Columbus, OH. Both Wesley and Rabbi Shimberg have committed to joining the CIW in New York for their five-day Freedom Fast outside of the offices of Wendy's Board Chair Nelson Peltz.

Lenten Reflection #1: Ash Wednesday

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By: Student Pastor Wesley Snedeker

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;” cries the prophet Joel, “gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, 'Where is their God?’’” (Joel 2:15-17)

Ash Wednesday is a recognition—a speaking up about our mortality, our limitedness, and our fragility. From the earth we were born and to the earth we return; upon the earth we depend and through the earth we are sustained. We are a creation not only of spirit and mind but also of breath and blood and bone. Our being individual or collective is embodied, reliant as it is upon the orderedness of our physical parts for the direction of our thoughts and energies. We are physical, and because our creation in this manner is pronounced good we are obligated to honor the rest of this good, physical creation.

The corporeal is finite, which is also good. We will die one day, and our being human in the way we are now will cease. This is ordained and unchangeable. Death offers intensity to our relationships and urgency to our responsibilities. The blessing that accompanies the end of our being physical is real, but the pain and loss for those who leave this world and for those who love them is real, as well. Our faith invites us to take this seriously and to treat it with reverence as God’s design.

Some would leverage their systemic advantage in accessing the physical good of this world to put themselves above others. This, we know, is not good. Indeed this is a silencing of God’s word, a distortion of God’s way. These people seek to stifle hope and creativity because they discern it to be a threat to their primacy. They weaponize the human fragility of the ones they oppress, harnessing their pain, starvation, and embodiedness to keep them in bondage. For cheap goods and easy profit they continue to assault the physicality of those who have less because they can.

Christians hope to be a people of transformation. We want to be not only disciples in word but in the fullness of our being. Spurred on by this hope, we call for the finite structures of this world to answer to the infinite spirit of justice. As their goods deteriorate and their profits disappear, so too will the abuses they commit die and be no more. As a people who recognize that we die yet have faith in something greater, we urge all those who participate in exploitation and oppression to let these ways die and give themselves to a new way that does not.

And so, we again find ourselves calling upon Wendy’s—a company that witnessed precious progress and justice in Florida’s tomato fields and responded by turning away—to join the Fair Food Program. Their refusal to engage in real dialogue with their workers betrays their fear of dying to their old ways. We ask them instead to embark on the long and difficult road of self reflection and repentance, the humble and disciplined way of transformation. This is a way of communication and not solipsism, of collaboration not domination. It is an ongoing practice of maintaining good relationships with those with whom they do business, an attitude of community and not stratification. The invitation they are offered by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a generous offer to let the hurtful parts of their corporation be washed away and to take leadership in building a new kind of harvest.

As long as they refuse this invitation, we continue to mourn their participation in wrongdoing. A fast has been called and a solemn assembly is being gathered. The workers whose bodies are put daily on the line for cheap tomatoes will be at Nelson Peltz’s doorstep demonstrating their hurt and dissatisfaction. Ash Wednesday seems an appropriate time to note the real, bodily dimensions of this dialogue and its consequences.

D'var Torah for Parashat Terumah 5778

"The Sacred Task of Following Instructions"

Originally written for T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

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By: Rabbi Jessica  K. Shimberg

Let’s face it: change is usually slow. Confronting the institutional injustices we see at all levels of government and many parts of corporate America, it’s hard to know which of the two moves slower. As we persist, we need opportunities to renew our hope and inspire others to continue working to bring about desperately needed change. From where do we draw strength? This week’s parshah contains one of my “go to” messages for nourishment and strength, a reminder that the Divine Indwelling Presence is always with and within me and that I am a mikdash when I bring my heart’s terumah.

This week’s parshah quickly surrounds us with exquisitely detailed instructions. (If only God wrote instruction manuals for modern home improvement projects!) First, however, God equips us with a deep sense of connection and purpose through heart, head, soul, and body. Recognizing the need ofb’nei Yisrael to hold onto their dramatic sense of encounter with the Divine after Sinai, God creates a beautiful process to inspire and elevate the Israelites while also providing structure. We are to bringterumah/gifts (literally, that which elevates or uplifts) to offer to the Divine according to the guidance of our hearts. Our gifts and our labor will create the mikdash/sanctuary for Shekhinah: “וְעָ֥שו לִ֖י מִקדָש וְשָכַנְתִי בְתוכָם” “And let them make for Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them,” or, as I prefer, “within them.” (Ex. 25:8)¹

God asks us to make a sanctuary for the Divine Indwelling because when we invest and participate in building something — whether a physical structure or a social movement — we are more deeply engaged. By creating within ourselves a refuge, a holy space, a mikdash in which the Sacred dwells, we are better able to feel and recognize each minute detail as meaningful progress.

Because central Ohio is home to Wendy’s, I have had many opportunities over the past five years to interact with Wendy’s corporate headquarters, local restaurants, and The Ohio State University toencourage Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program. My work as an ally of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has taught me a great deal about what it means to offer my gifts to a complex project and the importance of being deeply mindful of following set, detailed instructions. The order in which CIW works toward assembling a “sanctuary” for farmworkers is frequently different from what I might propose. In following the lead of farmworkers, I have repeatedly had to grapple with my “white” privilege and with the status privilege I carry as a “recovering litigator” and rabbi.²

During my most recent protest experience at a Wendy's franchise, several of my clergy colleagues, accustomed to utilizing their privilege, wanted to stay to address a store manager (who immediately called the police) and to educate customers. As allies, however, we do not set the detailed plan for an action – we support it. Our instructions were: as soon as we encountered resistance, we were to return to our vigil across the street. This strategy of avoiding confrontation is used because farmworkers do not hold the privilege that I do. Waiting for the police and other lawful protest activities are still a luxury in this country; brown skin, even for those who have documentation proclaiming their American status, legal rights, and privileges, is treated differently than my skin, and the consequences of protest are much more dire.

It is through this lens that I read the detailed instructions of parshat Terumah this year — as a blueprint for engaging in the holy work of social justice as an ally to those who experience indignities and violations from which my privilege could completely isolate me. I am grateful for the opportunity to offer my gifts, and I am careful to follow the instructions I am given. The open-hearted nature of my offering, the exuberance with which I give, is not meaningful if it blinds me to the collective purpose of the mishkan we are constructing. The holiness is in heeding the details as well as the impulse to give. The Chasidic master Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha taught: “Even those children in generations still to come, when your turn comes to do holy work, follow the example of the building of the wilderness tabernacle. Go from one level to the next, each at its proper time.”³ A large part of performing holy tasks is our ability to follow the instructions, especially when they are explicitly given.

¹This translation is often attributed to Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel), 19th Century commentator. This is supported by the grammar - “b’tocham” (in them) vs. “b’tocho” (in it - the Mishkan).

²I struggle, as a Jew, with the racial designation of “white” for a variety of reasons, which doesn't change the fact that I benefit from white privilege in most settings.

³p. 95, Sparks Beneath the Surface, A Spiritual Commentary on the Torah, Kushner and Olitzky.