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Letter 50 | American Values Religious Voices

Letter 50

DAY 50

Elsie R. Stern

Vice President for Academic Affairs, Associate Professor of Bible
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
March 10, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice-President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

I write on the fiftieth day of your administration—the midpoint of your first 100 days.

In Jewish time, we are also “in the thick of it.” We are in the middle of the Jewish calendar and about halfway between the holidays of Purim and Passover. In our annual cycle of scripture readings, we are almost halfway through the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy). Each of these middle moments has its own character and its own message.

In the Hebrew calendar, we are in the month of Adar, about which we are advised to increase joy. In the middle moments, the euphoria of a new start wanes, and we need to work harder to maintain buoyancy, optimism and vision. At the same time, we are halfway between Purim and Passover. On Purim, we read the book of Esther, which reminded us of the danger of chaos and misrule. On Passover, we will celebrate the possibility of liberation. In this space in between, the fear and relief of Purim linger even as we begin to anticipate the liberation to come.

“…both the adrenaline fueled act of building and the ongoing efforts of  governing (be it temple or nation) are sacred work.”

This week we are also nearing the middle of the Torah, as we finish the account of the building of the tabernacle in the book of Exodus. This is an “all hands on deck” project whose results are palpably transformative: “When Moses finished the work. . . the Presence of God filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34). The completion of the tabernacle makes a place for the holy amidst the nation. Next week, we will begin reading Leviticus—a policy and procedures manual for the ancient priests. Thus this juncture in the Torah reminds us that both the adrenaline fueled act of building and the ongoing efforts of governing (be it temple or nation) are sacred work.

In this moment in the middle, may you find energy and joy as you lead us, we hope, from chaos to liberation, past the highs of the “start-up” phase into the sustained work of governing. May your work create the conditions for wholeness, justice, and peace for all in our midst.

In peace,

Elsie R. Stern

Elsie R. Stern, Ph.D.
Vice President for Academic Affairs
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

the author

Elsie Stern is the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Bible at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, PA. Her teaching and research focus on the role of the Bible in Jewish life in antiquity and the present. Most recently, she served as a co-editor of the Dictionary of the Bible in Ancient Media (T and T Clark, 2017). She served on the advisory board of Values and Voices in 2017 and is honored to be part of the 2021 project.