Chaverim Yekarim,

I spent 36 hours this week on quick trip to our nation’s capital for an AIPAC rabbinic conference. Before it started, I had a couple of hours free and so I started meandering my way over to the National Mall with no particular destination in mind. Suddenly, I encountered this stark and imposing structure and immediately recognized it as the new African American History Museum. On previous trips, I had always wanted to go but tickets proved impossible to procure. On this Tuesday afternoon, I was able to walk right in and wander through this superb museum.

It was a profound and powerful experience learning about slavery and the tireless fight for Civil Rights in this country. One particular exhibit on the slavery foundations of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola was particularly poignant. After the long and winding historical exhibition, the museum directs you to a large room for contemplation with water falling loudly into a reflective pool. I sat and reflected on the shared struggles of the African American and Jewish Peoples. As I left the museum, the giant Washington Memorial pierced the sky and provided a beautiful backdrop. With the curse of oppression seared in my mind, the monument reminded me of the immense blessings of this country.

Re’eh, this week’s Torah portion, reminds us of the blessings and curses always within our reach. Moses begins with the present tense …See, this day I set before you a blessing and a curse… reminding us that it is upon us to actively choose the blessing each and every day of our lives. In so doing, we mirror the path of this beautiful country, a country that has repudiated the path of oppression and embraced the one of blessings.

As Rosh Chodesh Elul begins this evening…as this month of introspection and teshuvabegins…as the 40 days until Yom Kippur reflect the 40 days Moses spent on Mount Sinai, we all commit ourselves to this journey of blessings, a journey that culminates with an entrance into the Book of Life during the High Holy Days.

On this Labor Day Weekend, please take a moment to reflect on this. As we work to improve ourselves, we work to improve this country and this world. May this Shabbat be one of rest and rejuvenation. After all, by honoring our rest, we honor our work.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,