Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Learn To Speak, Speak With Wisdom Like A Child (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Foolish Heart")

          For the past six weeks,, our twenty-year-old daughter has endured physiotherapy for her July ACL knee surgery. To her credit, she has been incredibly dedicated throughout her knee rehabilitation. So several times a week, I drive her. I bring her there, take a walk, pick her up, and drive her back home. We get to talk a lot about the surgery, the actual rehab, the exercises, her experience, frustration with the healing process, and a host of other things, including Covid 19, when she will head to Maryland for university and politics. After we return home, we take a short walk and practice what she was doing in physio. I show her a technique for a certain motion with her knee or her hip and she watches and listens. Then she follows my instruction and asks, “How did you know to do that? You aren’t a physiotherapist.” No, I am no physiotherapist,  but I have had enough leg injuries and gone through enough physio, that I learned through experience. So, I smiled and explained to my daughter, that I have learned a few things based upon my own experiences.

          This week we read from Parsha Ki Tavo. The Parsha begins with Moshe explaining the laws that are specific to B'nai Yisroel’s entry into the Land.  He reminds them of the laws of first fruits, and tithing.  Moshe reminds them that there is a powerful link between God, B'nai Yisroel, and the Land. Each needs the other.  Moshe then describes the ritual specific to this generation that will symbolize their acceptance of the Torah and the covenant.  As they cross the Jordan River, they would inscribe two stones with Kol Divrei HaTorah HaZot BaEir HeiteivYou shall inscribe on the stones all the words of this Torah well clarified.” Then the stones would be covered with plaster in order to protect the inscriptions. Moshe then reminds B'nai Yisroel that they are now an Am Yisroel– a Nation and no longer B’nai Yisroel – Children of Yisroel.  With that change of status comes responsibility, and Moshe lists the blessings and the curses that will result depending upon Am Yisroel’s behavior.  Moshe concludes his passionate plea to fulfill the covenant by giving Am Yisroel a brief history lesson. He reminds them that they left Egypt and saw all the signs and wonders (they didn’t, rather their parents and grandparents experience the Exodus and witnessed the plagues). Moshe reminds them that he let them for Forty years, and they didn’t eat bread nor drink wine, rather they experienced the miracle of the Manna. He reminds them of battles they fought and won and finally he reminded them they were ready to begin their new lives in the land. 

          Moshe also reminds them that if they listen, they will be blessed. If they fail to listen and fail to live up the covenant, then they will be cursed and sent into exile. V’Haya Im Shamoah Tishmah B’Kol Adoshem Elokecha - It shall be that if you hearken (surely listen/obey) the voice of Hashem, your God, - Lishmor et Kol Mitzvotav Asher Anochi Mtzavcha Hayom - to observe, to perform all His commandments that I command you this day, Untancha Adoshem Elokecha Elyon Al Kol Goyei Ha’Aretz - then Hashem, your God, will make you supreme over all the nations of the earth. (Deut. 28:1)  Rashi explains that the force of this emphatic doubling of the verb ShaMA-listen. “If you take it upon yourselves, it will become easy for you, since it is only the beginning that is hard.” Rashi, and the Talmud Sages before him,  offers a psychological truth about observance and about anything new for that matter. At first, the action may prove daunting and perhaps even overwhelming. However, as the action is repeated, it becomes easier and easier and almost second nature. Rambam (Maimonides) commented that “the more man is drawn after the paths of wisdom and justice, the more he longs for them and desires them (Code, Teshuva 6:4) However it is not enough to listen, but rather one must listen emphatically, that is, internalize what has been listened to and then used.

Whether it is observing Mitzvot or just listening to "Dear Old Dad", our daughter learned this most valuable lesson. She can whine, and mope, but if she just listens to me, her life will actually be OK,  Of course, like B’nai Yisroel, it is all predicated on listening, observing, and then consciously acknowledging that it actually works.  Sometimes,  learning from another person's experience can be an incredibly useful means of education, and managing life. Well, good luck with that!


Rav Yitz 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

I Guess They Can't Revoke Your Soul For Trying; Get Out Of The Door, Light Out And Look All Around (Robert Hunter, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir & Phil Lesh - "Trucking")

           Like parents of many 18-year-old children here in North America, we said “good-bye” to our 18- year old daughter as she left for her gap year in Israel.  The airport was almost like a ghost town, only one parent could walk inside with her (mommy insisted on walking in). As a result, her siblings and I had to say our goodbye’s curbside. As she and I took a minute, I explained to our daughter that a fundamental change is occurring. She will now have two homes, a home where her parents live and that she will either frequently or infrequently visit, and home is where she lives her life. I reminded her, that the home where her parents are, is open 24/7, it is open for shelter, refuge, re-charging as well as reminding her of her values, her roots, and a sanctuary. Through our tears I reminded her that this is what we, her parents, signed up for:, raise, feed, clothe, educate, and instill values, morals, and life lessons as possible in order to diminish the risk when they do leave. Indeed a child’s leaving is inevitable. I looked into my daughter’s big blue eyes and reassured her that she is ready to leave, to embark on her journey,  confront life and live life without mommy and daddy involved on a daily basis.

          This week's Torah portion is Ki Teitzei. Moshe continues with listing laws such as: rights of the firstborn for an inheritance, the wayward rebellious son, lost and found property, sending a mother bird from the nest when procuring the egg from the nest, tzitzit, false accusations, forbidden marriages, charging interest, divorce, workers’ rights to timely payment, honesty in weights and measures and remembering Amalek. That is just to name a few. All these laws reflect one extremely relevant idea. Judaism is not just a ritualized religion that takes on import three times a year, or only at life cycle events. Judaism is a way of life. 

          Anything, any idea that is considered to be a “way of life” must be relevant in two places, in the home (a sanctuary) and outside the home where life is much less ideal than the home/sanctuary. Certainly, we can read the first verse as Moshe’s instructions regarding the appropriate manner to behave while fighting a war.  Ki Teitzeh LaMilchama Al Oyvecha UnTano Adoshem Elokecha B’Yadecha  - When you will go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem, your God will deliver him [your enemies] into your hand (Deut. 10:11). Yes, Moshe’s presentation of these laws suggests that there is an inevitability about going out to wage war. Rashi clarifies by explaining that this B’Milchemet HaRashut-an optional war. The sages explained that biblically speaking, an “optional war” is any war other than a war of the conquest of the Land of Canaan and the war against Amalek. Those wars are not optional but rather the fulfillment of a direct commandment. According to Sforno (the great Italian Renaissance commentator), “an optional” war is any war outside Israel or a political war.” Sforno’s comment is fascinating because it forces us to understand Moshe’s statement about Ki Tetzei La Milchama from a figurative and perhaps even a spiritual dimension. Moshe is speaking to “you” in the singular, “you” the individual. The Torah never said that he was addressing only the army. Each and every one of “you” wages a war of Reshut, an optional war. The individual “You” wages war against inner demons, against peer pressure, against that which is convenient and easy. “You” the individual wages a war against the monotony of routine. One thing is for certain, from Moshe’s perspective, war is waged upon Ki Teitzeh upon “going out”, leaving the “friendly confines”, leaving the “nest”, leaving the warmth and safety of the home and a sanctuary.

          Reading Ki Teitzeh in a figurative manner, gave new meaning to our daughter’s leaving for Israel. Yes, I am her father and yes, I am protective.  Yes, she departed with her own coat of armor: face mask, face shield, hand sanitizer, gloves, and Lysol wipes. However, I know that protecting her means that her mother and I accept the inevitability of her leaving and it is our job to give her the tools, the “weapons” so to speak, in order to deal with life, people, and her own insecurities and anxieties. So when I hugged my daughter goodbye, and when I blessed her through my tearing eyes, I also reminded her that she was ready for this and I lovingly reminded her code, her way of life is applicable not only to our home, the home she was raised in, but the home that she will be making for herself.


Rav Yitz

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Black Throated Wind Keeps On Pouring In With Its Words Of A Life Where Nothing Is New Ah, Mother American Night, I'm Lost From The Light (John Barlow & Bob Weir- "Black Throated Wind")

           Three ongoing activities have dominated our home this past week. During the day, we take one daughter for her physiotherapy as she rehabs her surgically repaired knee.  We help our youngest daughter get packed and prepared for her gap year in Israel. She leaves next week. After dinner, I sit down and turn on the Democratic National Convention and text with my eldest daughter, a Democratic campaign manager. As I listened to some of the “big names” speak, three of whom my daughter has worked for: Hillary Clinton, Senator Warren, and President Obama, I was struck by a theme that each alluded to and President Obama so eloquently and explicitly pointed out. Speaking from Philadelphia, from the site where the U.S. Constitution was signed, the former president reminded us that the President’s job is to defend the constitution. In order to do that, the President must appreciate the sanctity of the Constitution’s words. the President must understand the meaning of those words. The President must acknowledge that those words are applicable to every American citizen no matter color, gender, religion, voting preference, or ethnic background.  President Obama reminded viewers that the oath of the President is serious, the office weighs heavy and should not be taken lightly nor cavalierly. From President Obama’s perspective, it appeared that the words of the Constitution must be held close to the President’s heart in order for him/her to have the character to fulfill its words.

          This week’s Parsha is Shoftim. Moshe has completed his lecture on the values of monotheism and covenant. Now he begins telling B'nai Yisroel all the nitty-gritty details of living a Jewish life within this community. What a downer! B’nai Yisroel is inspired and ready to enter into Eretz Canaan and begin living the life in the land that God had promised their ancestors. They are now ready to begin fulfilling the dream that allowed them to survive centuries of slavery. So what does Moshe Rabeinu do? He brings them crashing back to reality. Now they will listen and understand laws concerning war, punishments for idolatry, choosing a king, jurisprudence, priestly entitlements, and unsolved murders. Moshe gives B’nai Yisroel a healthy dose of reality by supplying all the details required to uphold the Covenant.

          One of these laws is rather curious yet serves as a reminder of how important it is to maintain a balance between dreams and reality, between the idealism of our youth and the cynicism of age. V’Hayah Ch’shivto Al Kisei Mamlachto V’Chatav Lo Et Mishnei HaTorah HazotAnd it shall be when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself two copies of this Torah in a bookV’Haitah Imo V’Kara Vo Kol Yemei Chayav Lema’an Yilmad L’yirah et Adonai ElohavIt shall be with him and he shall read from it all the days of his life, so that he will learn to fear the Lord his God, Lishmor et Kol Divrei HaTorah Ha’Zot V’Et HaChukim Ha’Eilah La’Asotam to observe all the words of this Torah and these decrees, to perform them so that his heart does not become haughty over his brethren and not turn from the commandment right or left so that he will prolong years over his kingdom, he and his sons amid Israel (Deut. 18:18-20). The king must write and maintain two Sifrei Torah. The “personal” Torah must be carried with him wherever he goes: meetings, wars, benefit dinners, etc. The Torah must always remain physically near his heart. However, the second Sefer Torah sits in the treasure room as a pristine copy, as a benchmark. This “benchmark” Torah remains enclosed, protected, and untouched. The king may consult it, but this pristine copy never leaves the sanctuary. How brilliant! The “personal” Torah that is carried around eventually becomes worn, the letters fade, and the parchment may even tear. This would most likely occur unbeknownst to the king. Yearly, the king must lay his “personal” Torah besides the “benchmark” Torah. There, in the inner chamber, the two Torahs are checked against each other. Then if there are any discrepancies in the “Personal” Torah, the king must make the necessary corrections. The king’s “personal” Torah must reflect the purest and highest standard. Through daily wear and tear, through the compromises necessary to manage a kingdom, the king must regularly check to make sure that he has not gradually drifted away from the “Pristine” or “Benchmark” Torah.

          This is the ultimate form of personal “Checks and Balances”. Instead of living a life based upon “how much can I get away with”, “What am I entitled to”, “how can I enrich myself”, Judaism reminds the leader that there is a code by which life must be lived.  Judaism understands that we all make compromises. Sometimes we may even, unfortunately, compromise our integrity our values, and our own sense of propriety. Sometimes our drift from the ideal is not even that pernicious. Sometimes we just slowdown or get sidetracked. However, Judaism is about behavior that expresses our relationship with each other and with God. Like a king that needs to periodically check the “personal Torah” against the “Benchmark Torah”, we also must check our “Personal Torah” against the “Benchmark Torah”. Certainly, the process may be uncomfortable, and yes, there is the danger of becoming so self-absorbed that we become paralyzed. The process occurs on a regular enough basis that we don’t become too paralyzed that we can’t function. However, what is so empowering is that this “personal Torah” is not confined to the King. In this regard, we are all kings, we are all royalty. We are all better off making sure that our “personal Torah”, the one we carry with us wherever we go matches up with Torah, the Torah that we learn from, the Torah that we read upon Shabbat and Holidays. As we have just started the month of Elul, this notion of self-reflection is even more important. Yet as former President Obama explained, a successful President keeps the Constitution’s words close and every decision must be based upon defending and living by those words. It requires self-reflection, honesty, integrity, and moral character. Funny, these are the same qualities that we try to instill in our children.


Rav Yitz

Friday, August 14, 2020

Lord, Try To Read Between The Lines; I Had A Feeling I Was Falling, Falling, Falling Lord, I turned Round To See (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia -"Bertha")

           It has been quite an emotional week. This week is my grandfather’s 6th yahrzeit. Six years later, there is rarely a day that I don’t think about him. Three years ago, this week was our son’s bar mitzvah which we celebrated in Israel. Also, three years ago, on the day our son read Torah at the Kotel, Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. This week, my Rebbe passed away after a long illness. Unable to travel to the States, I had to watch as the service was streamed. Our family attended a Zoom memorial service for a great uncle, my late grandfather’s brother in law (his children and I were very close). We also celebrated with our friends who celebrated their son’s wedding in Israel. We also celebrated our son’s 16th birthday this week. Amid the emotional whipsaw of these moments of joy and sorrow, I have cherished quiet moments of watching the ball game with my son, or a movie with my daughters.

          This week's Parsha is Re'eh. Moshe continues his discourse. He has already explained the Mitzvot, and he continues to do that. Moshe has alluded to the blessings of life if B'nai Yisroel follows God's commandments. He has and continues to allude to the curses that will befall B'nai Yisroel if they violate the most important commandment-idolatry. "See I present before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut.11:26). V'haklalah Im Lo Tishm'u el Mitzvot Adonai Eloheichem V'sartem Min Ha'Derech Asher Anochi M'taveh Etchem Ha'yom La'lechet Acharei Elohim Acheirim Asher Lo Y'Datem-"And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of the Lord your God, and you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow gods of others, that you did know." (Deut. 11:28) Moshe presents B'nai Yisroel with two pictures, a world when B'nai Yisroel lives up to it covenant with God and one in which they don't.  He reminds B'nai Yisroel of the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel (the Land of Israel), the consumption of foods that are consecrated to the Kohanim and he warns B'nai Yisroel to avoid imitating the Rituals and Rites of the Egyptians and the Canaanites. Moshe reminds B'nai Yisroel to be careful of false prophets, avoiding non-kosher foods, not living in wayward cities, forgiving loans after seven years, caring for the less fortunate, and celebrating the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

          The Torah tells us: Ki Im El HaMakom Asher Yivchar Adoshem Eloheichem miKol Shivteichem LaSum et Shmo Sham L’Shichno Tidreshu Uvata SHama Rather, only at the place that Hashem, your God, will choose from among all your tribes to place His Name shall you seek out his Presence, his dwelling, and come there. Certainly, this is reminiscent of the Kadosh Baruch Hu, at the time of the Akeida, telling Avraham that he will show him where to go with his son Yitzchak. Its reminiscent of Avraham as much younger man, leaving his home and going to a place that God would show him., Certainly we could understand Moshe’s words as a  reminder for B’nai Yisroel that “sanctity”. Holiness, Kedusha is central to  Israel, Torah, and Jewish identity. The Sfas Emet (The Gerrer Rebbe from about 1870-1905) reminds us that HaShem’s choice is not revealed until B’nai Yisroel “seeks”.  We only find answers when we seek, when we look, when we investigate. Because we are commanded to seek Shechino, his divine aspects that dwell among us, we are tasked to seek holiness. Holiness is in Time and Space. Holiness is in our  Neshama, Holiness is in our choices, and in our words, our deeds and the way we live our lives. That is the constant choice we are commanded to make HaYom Today –  a choice that we make each and every day and each and every moment.  

          Indeed, the week has been full of all kinds of emotional swings. Yet it dawned on me that precisely during those moments of joy, sorrow, anguish, and gratitude; “seeking” God is most possible. When we are spiritually sedentary, when we are spiritually lazy, we probably lack the spiritual insight of “sight”  of being able to sense or see God. Yet, when we experience the full range of human experience and emotion, we begin to ask questions. Some ask “why”, although I rarely suggest we ask that question. Rather we ought to ask “How”. How do I make this moment, this moment of anguish, or joy, meaningful? How do I make this moment of sorrow or joy holy? When we ask those questions, and we adapt rituals that express meaning in those moments, we embody the words of the Sfat Emet and seek God. In doing so, we make the week full of anguish, and joy, meaningful and sacred.


Rav Yitz

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

There Is Some Satisfaction In The San Francisco Rain (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Mission In The Rain")

          It has been two full weeks since our twenty-year-old daughter had ACL replacement surgery. Since the surgery, she has passionately focused upon rehabbing her knee. Three times a week either her mother or I shlep her to rehab. Every day she insists upon taking a walk down the street She has gradually increased her distance and now walks approximately 100 yards on relying upon her crutches as little as possible. She walks these100 yards slowly, carefully and it is terribly exhausting. Every day, after the walk, we ice her knee and she takes a nap. When she wakes up, she begins doing her rehab exercises, then more ice. She has worked incredibly hard and I suspect that she will continue to do so. As impressed as her mother and I are with her dedication, we have been even more impressed with her attitude and mental toughness. She has learned to take nothing for granted. Getting herself in out of bed, going up and down the stairs, washing up, and even sitting with us at the Shabbat tables, she has been nothing but thankful and appreciative of these activities that the rest of us don’t even think about. 

           This week’s Parsha is Eikev. Here, in his second discourse, Moshe explains to the new generation how the second set of tablets that contains the Aseret Dibrot came into being. He explains how God forgave the parents of their idolatrous behavior in regards to the Eigel Zahav (Golden Calf), and all B’nai Yisroel must do essentially refrain from Idolatry, serve God, worship God, and the nation will be rewarded with water, grass and quality lives. Moshe also reminds B’nai Yisroel that they have nothing to fear when they enter into Canaan and conquer the land even though they may be outnumbered because God has already demonstrated that he will protect his people. He did so during the Yetziat Mitzrayim (Exodus), and as long as B’nai Yisroel keeps its side of the B’rit, God will continue to protect his people.

However, it is towards the end of the Parsha, that we encounter a possible answer from a passage of Torah that should be familiar to all of us. V’Haya Im Tishma’u El Mitzvotai Asher Anochi M’tzaveh Etchem Hayom L’AhavahIt will be that if you hearken to My commandments that I command you today to love Hashem your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul…(Deut. 11:13). This is the second paragraph of the Shema, a part of the daily prayers we say every Shacharit (morning service) and Ma’Ariv (evening service). In this second paragraph of the Shema, we are told that there is a reward for our obeying God’s commandments and there will be retribution for disobeying God’s commandments. Among the rewards is a phrase that, at first glance, does not seem like such a reward. V’Haya Im Tishma’u El Mitzvotai Asher Anochi M’tzaveh Etchem Hayom L’Ahavah Et Adonai Eloheichem Ul’Avdo B’Chol Levavchem Uv’chol  Nafshachem. V’Natati M’tar Artzechem B’Ito Yoreh Umalkosh V’Asaftah D’Ganecha V'Tiroshcha v’YitzharechaIt will be that if you hearken to My commandments that I command you today to love Hashem your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I shall provide rain for your Land in its proper time, the early and the late rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil.  V’Natati Esev B’Sadcha Livhemtecha V’Achalta V’Savata I shall provide grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied (Deut. 11:15). Among the rewards is grass for our cattle and we will eat and be satisfied. We won’t be ecstatic, we won’t be overjoyed. Rather we will be content and satisfied. This notion of Savata “you will be satisfied”, suggest satiety. It assumes that we know when we have “had our fill”. It suggests that in moments of quiet and perhaps anxiety and despair and we ask “is this all there is?” We are supposed to be able to say “Yes, this is all there is…. And it is enough to fill me.” Certainly, the Torah’s words are suggesting a means by which we are able to control our expectations and minimize our disappointments.

          For some, the notion of “satisfied” suggests an acceptance with mediocrity, after all, a final grade of a “C” suggested, “satisfactory” while a “B” suggested “Good and an “A” suggested “Excellence”. However, that notion of “satisfactory” is an external evaluation. V’Savata suggests that the person’s soul is at peace. Satisfaction is a form of wholeness and completeness. V’Savata suggests that you hve the strength and are at peace with the present, with “what is”.  Our daughter understands that recovery takes time. She understands that her recovery from surgery is a process that takes time. She has learned to appreciate each physical accomplishment. She has learned that frustration only detracts from her recovery. She has learned to find satisfaction from the most mundane and ordinary and in doing so she remains motivated to do a little more each day. B’nai Yisroel needs to learn to appreciate the blessings that God has given them, and that requires an ability to find blessings in the smallest of places and activities.

        Rav Yitz

Thursday, July 30, 2020

When The Battle Is Fought And The Victory's Won We Can All Shout Together, We Have Overcome (Robert Johnson - "My Sisters and Brothers")

          For the past week or two, the late Congressmen John Lewis’ coffin crossed the Edmund Pettis Bridge 55 years after he originally crossed it on Bloody Sunday in Selma Alabama in 1965.  John Lewis lied in State in Washington D.C.’s Capitol Rotunda. John Lewis lied in State in Atlanta before his funeral and burial this past Thursday. His funeral occurred on Tisha B’Av, the day that commemorates the destruction and mourning of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  Prior to his death, Congressman John Lewis wrote his final words and asked the New York Times to publish his words on the day of his funeral, July 30th.  In his final words, Lewis reminds a nation and all people who struggle for a free society: “You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching,  existential struggle for a very long time… The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out so long ago can help you find solutions  to the challenges of our time,,, So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers, and sisters, and let the spirit of everlasting love be your guide.” 

          This Shabbat is Parsha V’Etchanan also known as Shabbat Nachamu ( the Shabbat of comfort). It is always the Parsha that immediately follows Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), the day in which we commemorate the destruction of both the First and Second Temple. The Parsha is a continuation of Moshe Rabeinu’s lecture to Bnai Yisroel. While last week’s Parsha, Devarim featured Moshe gently castigating and criticizing Bnai Yisroel; in Parsha V’Etchanan, Moshe urges and cajoles Bnai Yisroel to learn from their hardships. Moshe explains that the hardships that Bnai Yisroel already faced and will face in the future are a direct function of their following God’s Torah. Good things will happen when they followed God’s Torah, and not so good things will happen when they don’t follow God’s Torah. Failure to follow the Torah will result in exile, however, there will always be the opportunity to learn from those mistakes and return to the land and to the relationship with God.

          Moshe reiterates the Ten Commandments and his experience at Sinai. Then Moshe explains that while he can speak of the Ten Commandments and share his experience, Bnai Yisroel will now have to pass this information and these commandments in a very different way than sharing a firsthand experience of the revelation of Sinai. Instead, this generation, the generation that did not stand at Sinai, will have to teach the meaning of these words, ideas, and commandments, to their children and live by them. V’Shinantam Levanecha V’Dibarta Bam, B’Shivtecha, B’Veitecha, Uv’Lectecha VaDerech, U’Veshachbecha U’vKumecha.And you shall teach them [these words] thoroughly to your children and you shall speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you go to sleep and when you arise. The sages explain that a person’s devotion to Torah is exemplified by the priority given to teaching “these words” and “these values” to one’s children. Teaching can occur through words. Teaching can occur through deeds. Teaching can occur through positive behavior, that is to say, emulate modeled behavior. Teaching can occur through negative behavior, that is to say, learn from the mistakes of the previous generation. 

          John Lewis’ final words embody the words of Prophets, urging, cajoling, and beseeching the next generation to take up the mantle, to move forward, and to always follow the arc of history bent towards freedom. I have always wondered about Moshe telling Bnai Yisroel to V’Ahavta et Adoshem Elokecha. John Lewis’s final words and philosophy of non-violence that he preached and lived by clarifies Moshe’s words. For how else can one take up the mantle of non-violence without “loving the Lord your God”? John Lewis modeled behavior that makes a community and a society better. His final words resonate the words of Moshe Rabeinu but most of all they resonate the hope that the next generation, the generation that listens to these words and strives to live by these words and this code, has within itself, the strength, and the courage to make the community sacred and holy

Rav Yitz

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Things Went Down We Don't Understand But I Think In Time We Will (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "New Speedway Boogie")

          I should be upbeat, perhaps even happy. Baseball has returned this week. Something that suggests “normal”, something that suggests a seasonal means by keeping track of time (a schedule, box scores to check in the morning, or a big weekend series). Yet, I am deeply troubled. We have been watching what has been happening in Portland. We have watched as federal troops, who are not part of the U.S. armed forces but rather from other Federal agencies such as Border Patrol and Department of Homeland Security, etc., in unmarked battle, fatigues have fired upon non-violent protesters, who have arrested non-violent protesters. My family and I have watched, I have welled up in tears. I pity the United States and I am proud to be living in Canada. I am disgusted that this “President” behaves like a South American dictator of the 1970s and 1980s, I am disgusted that this “President” behaves like an Eastern European Communist Dictator during the Cold War. I am disgusted that this “President” behaves like those European fascist dictators in Europe during the 1920s and ’30s. I am repulsed by this “President” behaving like dictators in Russia, Hungary, Turkey, and Syria. In Tom Friedman’s op-ed July 21 piece entitled “Trump’s Wag The Dog War”, enumerates the troubling and even treasonous response of responding to the most sacred and American right as explicitly written in the United States Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Leadership, or at least, the leadership that used to exist prior to this “President” respected the Constitution, and peaceful assembly is a sacred American right to be defended. Also, if the leader is really smart and forward-thinking, he/ she will listen to those protesters and make the effort to understand the reason for the grievance and protest and try to fix it.

          This week’s Parshah is Devarim, which is the first Parshah of the Book of Deuteronomy or Sefer Devarim. Moshe recounts in very wide brushstrokes, the experience of the generation that fled Egypt. Very few details are given. In fact, Moshe begins the story at the foot of Sinai; however, the name is changed from Sinai to Horev. In his recounting, Moshe speaks as a participant in this national experience, not in the third person. This is quite different from the Moshe we have seen. Until now he spoke as a prophet. God told him and he told B'nai Yisroel. Now Moshe displays a certain amount of freedom. When Moshe speaks, he places himself in the center of the story. Moshe speaks using words such as “I”, “we”, and “you”. Now God has become the third party. Perhaps this is best expressed when Moshe begins his "telling" by gently rebuking B'nai Yisroel. The language is in terms of what B'nai Yisroel did to him as well as God. "V'Omar Aleichem Ba'Eit HaHi Leimor Lo Uchal L'vadi Se'Eit Etchem: "I said to you at the time, saying, 'I cannot carry you alone…How can I carry your contentiousness your burdens and your quarrels" (Deut. 1:9,12). Moshe subtly and gently begins to point out how rebellious their parents behaved during the past forty years. He reminds this generation how the first generation rebelled while God provided, and cared for them. The message to this new generation is clear. Our parents may have made mistakes, but God never abandoned us. This generation learns that they too will make mistakes and will know that God won't abandon them. God will always work with them.

          We know that God wanted to destroy and abandon his people on occasion (Ex. 32:10 and Num. 11:1-3), yet he did not. The subtlety and the gentility of Moshe's rebuke lies in the fact that he did not mention this. Neither does Moshe go into any type of detail concerning Bnai Yisroel’s rebellious behavior. Rashi, the 11th-century Northern French commentator, asked the same question that you are asking right now.  What was the nature of "Eilu HaD'varim-These Words"? Why did Moshe purposefully leave out the embarrassing details and instead shade his language so gently? Rashi explains L'fi Sh'hein Divrei Tochachat Umanah Kaan Kol Hamkomot Sh'hichisu Lifnei HaMakom Bahen, Lefichach Satam Et Ha'Devarim…Mipnei Chevodecha Shel Yisroel - Since these are words of reproof, and he enumerates here all the places in which they provoked the Omnipresent, therefore he conceals the matters (in which they sinned and mentions them by allusion) contained in the names of these places out of respect for Israel."  Rashi is of the opinion that Moshe's intent was to teach. He wanted to explain to this new generation what had happened. Embarrassment and humiliation would have no purpose. No matter what their parents had done, God maintained his covenant. No matter what their parents had done, God would not visit their sins upon this generation. Besides, B'nai Yisroel was designated in the book of Leviticus as a holy nation, a nation of priests. Therefore Moshe must show this generation the appropriate respect. He cannot be ill-tempered and rebuke them for what their parents had done.

          Moshe understood that God instills this holiness in all of us. So whether or not our predecessors behaved inappropriately at particular times, whether or not our predecessors behaved wrongly, we are foolish if we don't try to learn from that example. Learning will be effective when we are empowered rather than embarrassed or humiliated. Even if a rebuke is required, it can be done in a way that neither demeans, embarrasses the person, or violates such sacred Constitutional rights. History is full of leaders who behaved otherwise and failed, including all those fascist dictators in Europe prior to and during WWII, all those Cold War Eastern European dictators, all those failed Communist and right-wing Fascist dictators in South America, and the long list of Middle East brutal dictators in the 20th and 21st century from Libya, Iraq, to Iran and Syria. Indeed, it will be nice to watch baseball and return to “normal”. It will be even nicer when there is a President who can resume the noble experiment of democracy.

Rav Yitz