The People Who Stood at Mt. Sinai are with Us Today

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, June 7, 2019 / 4 Sivan 5779

Summary: Rabbi Kosak provides a teaching on Shavuot and provides an update on some of the new work the Common Table, on whose Lead Team he serves, is doing.

This weekend, Jews around the world will be celebrating matan Torah, the giving of the Torah, which is commemorated on Shavuot, one of our three pilgrimage festivals. According to tradition, everyone was present—women, men and children. Moreover, the Torah (Exodus 12:38) explains that we left Egypt with a mixed multitude of many non-Israelites.

This is profound. Startling even. While we Jews have accepted a set of obligations upon ourselves, the Divine Revelation at Mt. Sinai was apparently experienced by a vast group of recently freed and downtrodden individuals composed of different groups, religions and backgrounds. The Torah thus presents us with a powerful image of egalitarian freedom and transcendental encounter with the God of history.

Let’s be clear—this image did not at all reflect the reality of the world into which it was delivered. Torah places before us with an incompletely realized vision of the good society and the roadmap to mend an imperfect world. Ever since, it has been our obligation to concretize its noble teachings. That is a never ending process.

As we march toward Sinai with this insight, I wanted to refer you to an Op-Ed that appeared in the Oregonian this past Sunday, entitled “An antidote to hate crimes is deliberate ‘friend-making.’” You can read it here, or at the very bottom of this Oasis Songs. (If you’d like to read Rabbi Eve’s recent editorial, you can go here, to learn more about the important work she is doing.)

It is in part an update on the continuing work that the Common Table is doing, which I wrote about here some months back. The op-ed itself was composed by a group of us faith leaders in reaction to the terrible events in Poway San Diego (and so many other hate crimes that fill our screens and minds). As a reminder, our Common Table is a faith-based movement which aims to bridge the increasingly toxic political divide of our times by finding common ground at a common table. In that way, we are like that mixed multitude who escaped tyranny and stood together at Mt. Sinai.

Part of our efforts has been to identify a compassionate venture that motivates all of us, regardless of our politics, religion or other parochial concerns. Two basic values which motivate most people of faith are feeding the hungry and housing the houseless. Most of our faith communities are already engaged in alleviating some of that human suffering. To best understand our collective efforts, we are in the process of mapping out the full impact that our faith communities provide in responding to these basic needs throughout our state.

If you are engaged with other faith-based communities besides Neveh Shalom who are working in this arena, I’d ask you to please fill out the hunger & housing questionnaire here, email us at–or forward the survey to the appropriate person in those other communities of faith. Doing so will help us all to understand the scope of good work carried out by so many kind people of faith in our state and will open our eyes to how much powerful community is already in place. What a wonderful counter to cynicism and distrust!

In Sunday’s Op-Ed, we noted that we are not so naïve to think this small step will heal every hurt between us. In our era of strife and polarization, however, we know that every step in the right direction is an important part of a greater journey. The spiritual path of friend-making isn’t flashy, and it seldom makes the news, but we believe it is the only path that can carry us forward as a society, and we hope that you will join us in walking it together.

For more information about the Common Table, check out our website

As we receive the Torah again, may we all aspire to breathe its teachings into our world. In that way, we too can stand again at Mt. Sinai with our many neighbors. On that day, God’s name truly will be one.

Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rav D

*parts of this Oasis Song were borrowed with permission from a common document produced by the Common Table.

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. They say every journey begins with a single step. What imposing journey have you begun in your life, unsure how it would turn out?
  2. What gives you courage to take on monumental tasks?
  3. When has your courage failed you? How did you respond either in the moment or later when reflecting upon that failure of nerve?
  4. As we celebrate Revelation, have you experienced a recent and unexpected insight that has shifted how you are thinking about your life?

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.

Torah Sparks Commentary This Week

Opinion: An antidote to hate crimes is deliberate ‘friend-making’
Posted Jun 2, 6:00 AM
Jan Elfers
Elfers, president of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, is writing on behalf of the Common Table of Oregon, a group of 28 faith leaders. For a full list of co-signers and for more information on the Common Table of Oregon, go to commontableoregon. org/our-story.

As a diverse gathering of faith leaders representing a wide range of Oregon’s spiritual traditions and political perspectives, we are united in grief at yet another recent hate-motivated murder — this time at Chabad of Poway Synagogue in San Diego. Following the bombing of three Christian churches in Sri Lanka and the shootings at two mosques in New Zealand, this is the latest example of a frightening trend: the global rise of hate crimes resulting from violent ideologies. Together we pray for the victims, the families of the victims and the perpetrators.

In addition to our prayers, we are compelled to act. Given the nature of this growing threat, we recognize that a more proactive response is required beyond the polarization and gridlock of our political system. We believe that the antidote to “hate crimes” is deliberate “friend-making” and together, we are engaging in a statewide friend-making effort.

Starting with our own communities of faith, 28 of us gathered last fall on the coast to pray, get to know each other better and brainstorm ways for our diverse communities to grow in friendship. It was a historic occasion, gathering together a broad range of faith traditions for the express purpose of peacemaking. We started with common ground:affirming that all our traditions value love of neighbor and love of the disenfranchised.

As people of faith living in a state and country with rising reports of hate crimes, we felt the urgent need to bring deeper wisdom to bear on the spiritual and physical threats growing in our own backyard. So, we made a pledge to continue deepening our friendships and trusting the Spirit’s wisdom to guide us.

We made a commitment to continue learning about one another, trusting one another and standing together — even amid our differences — by discovering our common values and living them out together. This doesn’t mean there won’t be conflicts, but we hope a shared context of empathy and mutual understanding will transform conflicts before they could become sources of contempt or violence.
To help us, we’re launching a statewide mapping project to discover those places where faith-based communities are working to feed the hungry and house the houseless (check out our survey at Our hope is to use this map to learn more about each other, work alongside each other and deepen our sense of community throughout the state. We’re not so naive to think this small step will heal every hurt between us, but in an era of growing division, strife and polarization, we know this is a step in the right direction. The spiritual path of friend-making isn’t flashy, and it seldom makes the news, but we believe it is the only path that can carry us forward as a society, and we hope that you will join us in walking it together.

Others in the coalition are: Dave Brauer-Rieke, Oregon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Patrick Bell, Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon; T. Allen Bethel, Maranatha Church; Michael Cahana, Congregation Beth Israel; Molly Carlson, Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ; Todd Cooper, Office of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon; Michael Ellick, Metanoia Peace Community; Michael Hanley, Episcopal Diocese of Western Oregon; J.W. Matt Hennessee, Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church; Brian Heron, Presbyterian Church USA (Presbytery of the Cascades); Terry McCray Hill, African Methodist Episcopal Church;
David Kosak, Congregation Neveh Shalom; Margaret Marcuson, American Baptist Churches of the Central Pacific Coast; Rick McKinley, Imago Dei; Nathan Mekley, Metropolitan Community Church; Tim Overton-Harris, Cascadia District of the United Methodist Church; Allen Oyler, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Wayne Patterson, Young Life; Wajdi Said, Muslim Educational Trust; Ben Sand, Portland Leadership Foundation; Gurpreet Singh, Sikh Center of Oregon; Joe Snyder, Religious Society of Friends; Yuki Sugahara, Oregon Buddhist Temple; Dave Williams, University Fellowship / Lane Leadership Foundation; Tara Wilkins, Bridgeport United Church of Christ; Edith Woodley, Eloheh Indigenous Way; Randy Woodley, Eloheh Indigenous Way