Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wake Of The Flood, Laughing Water, Forty Nine; Get Out The Pans, Don't Just Stand There Dreaming (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia "Wake Of The Flood")

Now that school has resumed and there are no more holiday interruptions for the 8-9 weeks, our son realizes that all the work, all the quizzes, and the tests will begin to appear on his calendar and task planner. He sensed, realized and even anticipates that all these assignments, quizzes and test are about to happen in waves and bunches. For the first time since he began high school, he understood that high school is very different than middle school. So our came downstairs and asked me a few homework questions as he was preparing for a couple of quizzes. While he asked and I answered; the news was on and reporting a Hurricane Michael in the Gulf of Mexico and the fact that it went from a Category 2 to a Category 4 overnight, and was making landfall in Panama City, Florida on Wednesday. As we were trying to understand and answer his question, he expressed his concern over the fact that so many people went to bed thinking that this hurricane was a Category 2 but had unexpectedly become much more serious and much more dangerous. Then he made an interesting comment. The lack of information or the lack of timely information can contribute to the chaos. He pointed out that he has started to realize that if he doesn’t stay on top of his workload, if he doesn’t stay organized and plan accordingly, then he anticipates that he might feel overwhelmed and that his school life will become chaotic. My jaw dropped and I told him to always remember that the key to fighting chaos is information and organization.
This Shabbat we read from Parshat Noach. Comprised of two distinct narratives; both deal with the theology of chaos and confused boundaries. First we read the story of  Noach, God’s disenchantment with creation and mankind’s behavior, the instruction to build the Teva (the Ark), the Flood as punishment for mankind’s unethical behavior, the covenant made between God and Noach and the resulting offering to God, and then an odd story about Noach’s drunkenness and one’s sons inappropriate behavior. The second distinct narrative is also about chaos and confused boundaries. This time mankind confuses boundaries and trying to build a tower up to the heavens. The result is that God scatters mankind across the earth by making mankind speak numerous languages and making communication difficult.
While both narratives can conceivably stand alone; both narratives are related. As manifested in the previous Parsha, God is a god of creation and order. Therefore, in order for God to destroy, Order must be removed or chaos must become firmly entrenched.  Meivi et HaMabul Mayim AL HaAretz L’Shacheit Kol Basar Asher Bo Ruach Chayim Mitachat HaShamayim Kol Asher Ba’Aretz YigvahI will bring the flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh, in which is the breath of life from under heaven, and everything that is on earth shall die. Clearly from the text, there must be other kinds of floods besides water, otherwise, we do not need to be told that this particular flood is one that involves water. The message is that God will punish creation by instituting chaos for a period of time. Later in Chapter 11 as mankind begins building a tower up to heaven God becomes disappointed again. Vayomer Adoshem  Hain Am Echad V’Safah Achat L’Chulam V’zeh Hachilam La’Asot V’aAtah Lo Yibatzeir Mei’hem Kol Asher Yazmu La’AsotBehold the people is one, and they have all one language, and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be withheld from them which they have schemed to do. Hava Neirdah V’Navlah Sham Sfatam Sher lo Yishmu Ish Sfat Rei’eihuCome let us go down and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. Instead of the flood of water, God created the flood of language and confusion the flood of a cacophony.
The flood of chaos and the struggle to handle chaos is part of our human condition. The first narrative, the Noach narrative, teaches that chaos is now part of creation and in a sense a type of punishment. The second narrative, the Tower of Bavel, teaches us that chaos is part of everyday human life. It is part of our task as human beings as we struggle to elevate ourselves from the animal aspect of our existence to the spiritual aspect of our existence that we create order from chaos. To do so is a Godly endeavor. To do so allows us to transcend the physical world. As our son watched the news about the chaos being inflicted by Hurrican Michael, and the anxiety he was feeling as his own work piled up; our son, began to understand something very important. The world can exhibit lots of chaos. Our son now understands that our response to chaotic conditions can contribute to chaos and make it worse, or we can determine that which we can control and create order from it. No, it may not eliminate all the chaos around us, but by doing so, we prevent ourselves from drowning amid chaotic conditions.  I just hope that our son remembers our discussion during Hurricane Michael, as he grows older realizes just how chaotic life can be.

Rav Yitz

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Once In A While You Get Shown The Light In The Strangest Of Places If You Look At It Right (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Scarlet Begonias")

Like so many millions of people, we had have been following the news regarding the Supreme Court nominee hearings. For our son, it has been a valuable lesson in learning what is and is not acceptable behavior in regards to drinking, and girls. For our daughters, it has been a valuable lesson in having a strong voice and learning to speak up for oneself. For all of us, we watched, we listened and we talked about the qualities and characteristics that are required for a person to judge other people. As we watched, listened and read, we were all keenly aware that for the past six weeks, the Jewish People have been dealing with God as a Judge. As we marked the conclusion of the Jewish Holidays, we were keenly aware that the Jewish People begin another cycle of Torah reading. I suggested to my children that perhaps we can determine the requisite qualities for a Judge by looking at the Torah. 
          This week’s Parsha is Breishit. It is the first Parsha of the first Book of the Torah. For all intents and purposes, it is the beginning of the Torah. In Breishit, we read the story of Creation, (The Beginning); Adam and Chava’s banishment from Paradise (Gan Eden), and the fratricide of Cain and Abel. We begin however with God.  We see what God does when God has no one or nothing to interact with. We see God create, then we see God evaluate or the Judge.  We read the words: V’yivrah Elohim Et Ha’Adam b’Tzalmo, B’Tzelem Elohim Barah Oto Zachar u’Nekeivah Barah Otam. “And God created man in His own image. In the image of God, He created him; male and female He created them. (1:27). So, what is the image of God?
 Well, the two fundamental activities that God engages in the story of Creation is to create something and then evaluate or judge it upon completion. As we talked about the qualities required to be a judge; I suggested to my children that they take a look at the commentary by Rashi and understand the two references to God (Yod Keh Vav Key) and Lord (“Elokim”) in the first two chapters of Creation “Elokim” and Hashem (Yod Keh Vav Key). Rashi, the great 11th-century French commentator explains that Elokim is the term that denotes the divine attribute of Justice (Midat Ha’Din), ruler, lawgiver, and Judge of the world. This was the term used exclusively in the first chapter of Breishit, where God only Judges. However, in the second chapter, the Torah uses the HaShem (Yod, Keh Vav Keh) which denotes the attribute of Mercy. In the second chapter, God doesn’t Judge, rather he creates Ha’Adam  Afar Min Ha’Adama VaYipach B’Apav Nishmat Chayim VaYehi Ha’Adam L’Nefesh Chaya- from the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the soul of life and man became a living being (Gen.2:7). There was no judgment, no evaluation just the mercy required to take something from the dust of the earth and elevate it in holiness by breathing into it. So it seems that the image of God is to Judge, and to have knowledge of the law. The other image of God is to demonstrate Mercy and to have the ability to empathize, the ability to see the image of God in each and every person.
            So as we continued to discuss the necessary qualities of a Judge, let alone the Supreme Court Judge, our children began to understand that the ability to Judge is not just a human endeavor, it is a holy and certainly a Godly endeavor. Both Knowledge and Mercy, IQ and EQ, intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence, are equally necessary. Acquiring knowledge and an honest desire to discover Truth is a Godly endeavor. Being able to empathize, to see the Ruach HaKodesh, the divine aspect in each person is also a Godly endeavor. While I doubt our kids will be nominated for the Supreme Court, I hope that they will strive to acquire both knowledge and empathy in order to have the judicial temperament and lead a spiritually enlightened life. After all, to be created in the image of God is to possess both knowledge and empathy.

Rav Yitz

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Say The Weather Down Here So Fine But Who Can The Weather Command ( Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Black Peter")

My wife’s family has been spending the Holiday of Sukkot with us. They live in California.  My three nieces and nephew have been amazed at how people deal with what they perceive as the rapid changes in the weather.  Sun and Rain, single digits overnight to low 20’s during the day; wind and calm; and all that might occur within a twenty-four hour period of time let alone a week. They watch us in amusement as we take tables and chairs in out of Sukkah in order to prevent the furniture from getting wet. Most of all they are impressed that whatever the weather may be, everyone quickly adjusts and continues doing whatever it is they were doing. A little drizzle doesn’t stop us from eating in the sukkah or prevent us from walking to wherever it is we are walking. We don’t just stay indoors and stop whatever we are doing. Also, if the weather is beautiful or even not so beautiful, we tell our children to go outside and play or plan some kind of activity outdoors knowing what we will be “hibernating” in a few months. We have all noted the irony of the weather. We can control our preparation for Yom Tov. We can control ourselves, and how we express our joy and happiness during Sukkot. We can control many things that enhance our Sukkot experience. But we all have limits to the extent of that control.
Among the most spiritually difficult texts is the Sefer Kohelet the book of Ecclesiastes. We read it in its entirety once a year on Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot, the Intermediate Sabbath of Sukkot. According to the tradition, Shlomo HaMelech, King Solomon, towards the end of his life, wrote this Megillah, this scroll. Tradition has this perspective because the language is not one of optimism but rather realism. This is a person who as “seen it all” – Ein Kol Chadash Tachat HaShemeshThere is nothing new under the sun! And yet there is a certain harsh realism and a certain sense of harsh optimism. The author provides us with a no holds barred sense of comfort. He does not coddle us. He does not baby us. Rather the author shoves our faces in this “reality” and gives us a perspective on how to deal with a world that is not as wonderful a place as we might have thought of in our youth, or even a few weeks ago. The question that so many of our sages have asked, is why is such a text, a text that does not offer such explicit hope, a text that does not offer explicit comfort, and is universally recognized as a “downer” of a text, why is such a text read on the holiday that is commonly regarded as Zman Simchateinuthe time of our joy?
            In Eretz Yisroel, the Autumn Harvest is complete. We unabashedly celebrate our joy on a physical level because of a successful harvest. We also unabashedly celebrate our joy for having been judged favorably by God, (Rosh HaShanah), having been the recipients of God’s mercy (Yom Kippur). On Sukkot, we are commanded to Samachta b’Chagechacelebrate in your holiday. Yet this text tempers our celebration. While the nature of the Sukkot holiday is to celebrate our unrestrained joy in receiving God’s blessing, we also know that very often it is human nature to forget God and celebrate our achievements and ourselves. Kohelet reminds us that, like the fragile nature of the Sukkah itself, not everything is as much in our control as we think. V’Zerach HaShemesh U’Vah HaShemeshthe sun rises and the sun sets- no matter what we do, no matter how much control we may perceive that we have, at the end of the day, we are ultimately powerless. God is the ultimate cause of all things. The sun rises and sets because of God, not mankind. Kohelet helps us maintain our perspective. Kohelet reminds us that we are not the center of the world. Kohelet reminds us that for all the physical pleasures we seek, for the all the material comforts we work hard to afford, such things are fleeting.
            So how can such a text offer us comfort? Well if we have the perspective of Kohelet, then we can understand how an elderly person, who has seen everything: man’s goodness, man’s evil, the joy of life and the futility of life, offers us comfort.  With control comes responsibility. With power comes responsibility. Kohelet teaches us that we should celebrate the fact that we have so little control. Kohelet teaches us that we should derive joy from the fact that we don’t need to worry about the sunrise or the sunset. We shouldn’t be so terribly joyous when life comes into the world or upset when life leaves the world. Intellectually speaking, life and death are not within our control. Living our life is within our control. Living the best possible life is within our control. Living a life that has spiritual meaning and the acquisition of wisdom is the crux of our existence, the purpose of our living. So our Los Angeles nephew and nieces learned to appreciate a 12 degree sunny few hours because the rains came, the weather grew colder and they had to go inside. They began to appreciate that they couldn’t control the weather, only how to plan and respond. Interestingly enough, they definitely appreciated the weather in Los Angeles because they didn’t have to worry about such changes in the weather over the course of a day.
Rav Yitz

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Wake Now Discover That You Are The Song That The Morning Brings (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Eyes Of The World")

When each of my children was born, and it was my job to rock them to sleep, I would whistle a particular song that I chose for them. For my eldest daughters, because there was a nine-year gap, I whistled the same song for each of them: "Summertime".  For my now 18 year old, it made sense, she was born in the summertime.  For my eldest, I loved Miles Davis’ version of the song so I chose it for her. When our now 16-year-old daughter was born, I chose “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. When our youngest child and only son was born, I chose Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”.  Since our kids are a bit older, and I don’t put them to bed anymore, I am sure that each has favorite songs that they have chosen, that “speak” to them. My kids and my wife know that if I hear my favorite song on the Grateful Dead internet radio station, or on satellite radio, they will either stop what they are doing so I can hear the song and sing along, or they will have to lower their conversation to a whisper. Usually, when the song comes on, they see that I am all smiles and genuinely happy, as a result, they even start to hum or sing along with me. Ironically, the lyrics are not sickeningly sweet but rather speak of growing up and a parent figure letting go so that child can learn to fall down and get back up on his/her own. The tune, however, is incredibly upbeat and happy. Because my children have heard the song hundreds of times they have learned to appreciate the juxtaposition between the simple, upbeat tune and the bittersweet lyrics.  They all know that I have never heard the song in concert and it is one of my “bucket list wishes”. I joke that if I never hear the song live at a concert, then it must be played at my funeral.
This Shabbat we read from Parshat Ha’Azinu.  The Parsha is poetry, a song that God had commanded Moshe to compose in the previous Parsha, VaYeleich. Composing this song was the final deed that God commanded Moshe. The song is the final prophecy that God told Moshe in the previous Parsha, VaYeilech.  As a song, Ha"Azinu does not contain the most pleasant of lyrics, and it is not particularly uplifting or inspiration. The song does not offer such an optimistic future.  Rather, Moshe invokes Heaven and Earth to offer testimony to God’s prophecy and future punishment against his people.
   Throughout Sefer Devarim, Deuteronomy,  Moshe has taught the law and inspired Bnai Yisroel to choose fidelity to God and God’s Torah.  Choosing to follow would result in a reward. Choosing not to follow would result in a punishment. Now, during the final moments of Moshe Rabbeinu's life, the song suggests neither choice nor the results of that choice. Instead, we are told that we will choose badly and that we will be punished.  There is nothing explicit within the song that suggests or even offers a means by which we are able to do Teshuva (repent) and ultimately return to God. While intellectually, Moshe has taught that concept to Bnai Yisroel; here in the song that possibility is not explicit. However, when the song is complete, Moshe speaks his word to Bnai Yisroel. His words offer a sense of hope, a sense of inspiration. He reminds Bnai Yisroel that even when they have grown distant from God, even though the resulting punishment will be brutal; there is still a measure of hope, hope for the next generation.  SImu Levavchem L’Chol Hadvarim Asher Anochi Mei’id Bachem Hayom, Asher T’Tzavoom et Bnaichem Lishmor La’Asot et Kol Divrei HaTorah Ha’Zot -  Apply your hearts to all the words that I Testify against you today, with which you are to instruct your children, to be careful to perform all the words of this Torah.  Ki Lo Davar Reik Hu Mikem Ki Hu Chayeichem Uvadavar HaZeh Ta’Arichu Yamimfor it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this matter shall you prolong your days on the Land to which you cross the Jordan to possess it.
In Moshe’s final moments, he reminds us that the key to our survival is to teach Torah to our children. Yes, according to the song, we will grow distant from God, yes we will engage in idolatry. Yes, we will be punishment. However, there will always be hope for the next generation if they are educated in such a manner that when it comes time for them to make a choice; they choose wisely, they choose God’s Torah.  Moshe reminds his people that the Torah is not empty. Moshe’s song juxtaposes the immediate short-term future that he sees; a future of hardship, despair and a distancing from God and a long-term future consisting of a reconciliation with God,  a return to the covenantal obligations and the joy that will come with that return.  Because it’s a song or poetry, the children will hear the song, not once but repeated over and over. In the long run, the B’nai Yisroel will come to appreciate the lyrics and its complexity. I know that my kids, in the long run, have come to appreciate my song and its lyrics, music, and complexity.
Rav Yitz

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Look Into Any Eyes You Find By You; You Can See Clear To Another Day (Robert Hunter & Phil Lesh - "Box of Rain")

Several hours before the Rosh HaShanah holiday began, my wife and I received an email from our daughter who is studying in Israel for the year. Since she arrived, her main form of communication has been phone calls or texts messages through Whatsapp. So when I saw an email from her, I was concerned. Don’t ask me why I should be concerned about getting an email from my daughter; I guess as I grow older and worry more and more. (I guess I am becoming more like my father.) So I read our daughter's email. I welled up. She explained that she did not have classes the day before Rosh HaShanah. Apparently, it was a beautiful day in Jerusalem, yet our daughter was experiencing the first twinges of homesickness as this was the first time that she was away during the High Holidays. She explained all this to us in her email and amid the twinges of homesickness and the welling up of tears, our daughter thanked us. She not only thanked us for giving her the opportunity to spend a gap year in Israel, she thanked us for the making her attend this particular seminary even though her teachers thought she would be happier elsewhere. She thanked us for not only seeing her in an honest and clear light but knowing what was best for her, as compared to her high school teachers. She thanked us for being her parents. I quickly wrote back two words. One word sums up the reason we wanted her to participate in sports as well as community service programs- Perspective. The other word allowed her to cope with hardship, discomfort or any challenge – clarity. Usually, clarity occurs when one is able to sense moments of extreme possibility. I know that I had great moments of clarity when each of my children was born. I also had great moments of clarity when my grandfather passed away a few years ago. Life and death allow us to get at the essence of life.
            In this week’s Parsha, Va’Yeileich, for the last time Moshe experiences a moment of clarity. However of all the moments of clarity including: the Burning Bush, the Revelation at Sinai, the Personal Revelation when he saw the back of God while defending B’nai Yisroel following the episode of the Golden Calf; it is the moment of death to which we can all relate. It is at the moment of impending death that Moshe has perfect clarity. He sees and understands the anguish that his children will experience as they drift towards and away from their Covenant with God. He sees all that his life has been and he recognizes that while his life will be no more, there will be closure. Ki Yadati Acharei Motie Ki Hashcheit Tashchitun v’Sartem Min HaDerech Asher Tziviti Etchem V’Karat Etchem Ha’Ra’Ah B’Acharit Hayamim Ki Ta’Asu et Ha’Rah B’Einei Adoshem L’Hachiso B’Ma’Asei Y’deichemFor I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly,  and you will stray from the path that I have commanded you, and evil will befall you at the end of days, if you do what is evil in the eyes of HaShem, to anger Him through your handiwork (Deut.31:29). We should note that closure does not necessarily mean that the content of the closure will be positive, however, the process of closure is always positive. Our sages are adamant about the vital importance of closure. If a person engages in Tshuvah, a repentant return to God, and Vidui, confession even if the moment before death it is tantamount to a person who has returned to living a life of Mitzvot. In a moment of clarity, certainly such a moment exists at death, Moshe has the opportunity to make that moment holy, sanctified, an un-wasted moment.
            This is a very special time of year for The Jewish People. It is a very spiritual time of year. This ten-day period from Rosh HaShanah until Yom Kippur is known as the Aseret Yamei Teshuvah – the Ten Days of Repentance. As the name suggests, this is the time of year in which we seek M’chila or forgiveness for any transgression we have committed. We seek forgiveness from God, and we seek forgiveness from family and friends. Mostly, it seems to me, that during these ten days we honestly look at ourselves and assume that we have hurt others instead of being shocked when we find out that we are capable of hurting another. The ability to engage in this process known as Tshuvah, the process of returning to the holiest aspect of our being, requires great clarity. Sometimes clarity occurs when one experiences a beginning, like a new life. Sometimes clarity comes at the conclusion, the death of a loved one. For our daughter clarity came on a beautiful autumn day in Jerusalem as she thought about the path of her life, leaving home, this current gap year and then onto college/university. Perhaps, Shabbat Shuvah,, the Shabbat of Return, reminds us of the importance of allowing those moments of clarity to serve as a source of spiritual strength.

Rav Yitz

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Faring Thee Well Now; Let Your Life Proceed By Its Own Designs (John Barlow & Bob Weir - "Cassidy")

While rushing around getting children ready for school, while our eldest daughter was busy preparing her candidate to win her respective primary, while a daughter was learning in Jerusalem; each one at some point stopped what they were doing and watched two funerals. Because of the technology, internet, and YouTube, our children were able to watch these funerals at more convenient times, or pause rather than sitting through each funeral which was a multi-hour affair. One funeral for was for Aretha Franklin and one funeral was for Senator John McCain, both funerals celebrated their lives, both funerals honored their lives, and both funeral services clearly were organized in the final months of each of their respective lives. From the music to the choice of speakers and even to the eulogies themselves; one could hear and see Ms. Franklin and Senator McCain’s stamp of approval. As my children watched and listened, I shared with them that if the type of music and the songs that I would want to be played and sung. In reference to my children speaking at my funeral, I told them that if they could say ¼ of the beautiful things that Meghan McCain said about her father in regards to me; then I will be eternally and gratefully dead. Needless to say, my kids weren’t so happy with me, but they understood what I was telling them. Even now, when I think about the individual who knows that death is imminent, and has the courage to share his/her thoughts and transmit his/her wisdom; I am inspired. I hope that whenever my time comes, I pray that I will be aware enough so that I can tell my wife and children and if I am blessed to have grandchildren, that my life has been a blessing because of them.  
                This week’s Parsha is the Parsha Nitzavim. According to the Aggadah, this the recounting of Moshe Rabeinu’s last day of life. Unafraid of his imminent death, he gathers his family: Rosheichem, Shivteichem, Zikneichem, v’Shotreichem, Kol Ish Yisroel, Topchem N’Sheichem V’Geircha Asher B’Kerev Machanecha Meichotev Eitzecha Ad Sho’eiv MeimechaThe heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Yisroel; your children, your women, and the stranger who is in the midst of our camp, from the woodchopper to the one who draws water (Deut. 29:9-10). Moshe imparts his last vestiges of wisdom to his children, his people. Moshe wants to make sure that everything is in order when he dies and Joshua takes over. Moshe truly has been blessed. He has had the blessing of old age, and here God has granted him the gift of saying goodbye in perhaps the most wonderful fashion. God has commanded Moshe to say his goodbyes and impart the final vestiges of wisdom.
                We are taught that death is a part of life. Yet many of us are afraid of death. Many of us believe that we should shield our children from death, sadness and loss. However, when we read Parsha Nitzavim, we learn that while impending death is sad, death in the manner of Moshe’s can take on an aura of holiness – of Kedushah. It is in holiness that we attain the highest level of life, a life that is directly connected to God. When death comes like this, from God, with an opportunity to say Goodbye- with an opportunity to impart wisdom to one’s children, death is not mundane, death is not ordinary, but rather holy and part of life, the final expression of holiness in a very physical endeavor. When we talk about strength, we, unfortunately, think of the person who lifts a lot of weight. We think of the person who doesn’t cry, who remains stoic if he/she is all torn up inside. At this time of year, from Elul through Sukkot, when we recite the 27th Psalm and conclude with the words Chazak v’Ya’Ameitz Libecha, v’Kavei El AdoshemStrengthen yourself, and he will give you courage; and hope to HaShem!, we now understand what it means to strengthen oneself.  Moshe had that kind of strength. To be aware of the end of life, to prepare for it, to draw loved ones toward and tell them how we feel is the epitome of courage.
 In a sense, Aretha Franklin and John McCain’s funeral wasn’t just a sacred ritual in which respect was paid to the deceased. Even in death, through music, through words of children, through words of friends and through the words of respectful rivals who eventually became friends, these two fallen giants, these two icons and heroes managed to do something incredibly holy. These two giants, and iconic figures reminded us to reaffirm life no matter how difficult, no matter how troubling. The Jewish People are less than a week from celebrating Rosh HaShanah, (Jewish New Year). Rosh HaShanah is also known as Yom HaDin (Judgment Day). So while there is joy at arriving on the brink of a new year, perhaps there is a bit of anxiety while awaiting Judgment. Whatever the upcoming year may bring; I pray that I have the courage to impart my wisdom to my children, and tell my wife how much she has blessed my life.

Rav Yitz

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Once We Grew Into Our; Shoes We Told Them Where To Go (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Days Between")

Normally, when our children head off to summer camp, we make sure that they bring two pairs of sneakers. This usually means that they bring an old pair of sneakers that they normally throw out at the conclusion of camp and return with only one pair. The pair that returns with our son has normally been worn to such an extent that we usually need to purchase a new pair of sneakers at the beginning of the school year. Our son went to camp with two pairs of sneakers: one old and one brand new. When he returned from camp, there were two pairs of sneakers: one appearing unworn and one looking more torn up and beat up. Well, school is about to begin, and when we suggest that he disposes of the old torn up and beat up sneakers; he quickly replies that he prefers not to dispose of the sneakers nor does he want another pair of sneakers at this time. He is looking forward to wearing the unworn sneakers. However, for now, he only wants to wear the old, broken in, torn up sneakers.

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 Ba'Eir 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 the battles they fought and won and finally he reminded them they were ready to begin their new lives in the land.

Certainly, the concluding verses are incredibly uplifting as Moshe passionately explains that they are ready to enter the land. However, there is one verse in this “pep-talk” that reminds us that Moshe is really an old man, a zeide (a grandfather or great-grandfather), who apparently worked in the shmatte business. “V’Oleich Etchem Arbaim Shana BaMidbarAnd I led you for forty years in the Wilderness, Lo Valu Salmoteichem Mei’Aleichem V’Na’alcha Lo Valtah Mei’Al Raglechayour garment did not wear out from on you, and your shoe did not wear out from on your foot.” (Ex. 29:4). Moshe does not explicitly mention the parting of the Yam Suf, nor surreal and miraculous moments at Sinai. Yes, he mentions some battles but shoes and clothes? The fact that they didn’t wear out after all those years; that the miracle? Well yes. Besides water and Manna, this was the one miracle that touched them on a daily basis. This is the one miracle that while it happens, they probably didn’t think about it. At least with the Manna, they had to go and gather it. At least with the Water, they had to go and draw it. However, with clothes and shoes, they would just put them on without any thought, nor effort. Now, looking back, Moshe reminds them that even the smallest miracle, that which was normally taken for granted should be considered miraculous.

Yes, it’s amazing that after two months of camp, neither outgrew nor wore out a pair of sneakers to such an extent that he asked for a new pair. Maybe the miracle is that our son decided that he could wait for a new pair of sneakers. Maybe the miracle is that our son figured he would wait until sneakers went on sale before declaring his desire for a new pair. Maybe the miracle is that our son finally understood the difference between “needing” a pair of sneakers and “wanting” a pair of sneakers.  Whatever the miracle might be; one thing is clear, our son who is a year removed from his Bar Mitzvah seems to have matured, and is ready to begin high school.
Rav Yitz