I am so far behind on divrei, that it will be some time before I catch up -- this is the first week in over a month that I have spent the majority of it at home.
First a week (10 days, really) of Kallah with the pre-Kallah for Smicha students. Then home for a few days and then two weeks at Elat Chayyim. Home again late Sunday and then a few days in Minnesota. I have been wearing a name tag around my neck for so long now, I think I may need that to know who I am....
I will leave discussions about Elat Chayyim and Kallah to the week's in whose Parshayot they belong. Starting next week I will issue two divrei a week (the current and a missed one) until we are caught up -- That way I won't be doing an incredible amount of work and you won't be flooded with divrei emails.
I would like to welcome all of the new people to the list -- I am honored to see how this list grows.
And a special WOW to the great folks in Minneapolis last weekend -- thanks to Pat for arranging everything and to Carol Jean and Sharon and Ann for their great hospitality and the food -- again WOW. (Ann and Sandy -- I do not have the emails from the others that asked to be added to this list, so please forward this to them so they can send me their emails -- thanks!) It was a wonderful gathering in spite of the heat -- the room was just perfect. The davvening both for Kabbalat Shabbat and for Shabbat morning was very powerful for me -- thank you for inviting me to lead and for welcoming me so lovingly.
This week's Parsha continues Moshe's talk with the Children of Yisra'el. The name of the Parsha is Eykev, from the same root a Ya'akov's name -- usually translated as heel because of the reference to his grabbing the heel of Eysav, his brother, during their birth. The word also means follows, tracks, footprints.
My life has been a crazy patchwork of this and that as I have marched through different careers gathering what I now look at as my life skills. When I first pursued being a rabbi, people would ask me about what I had accomplished in my life and I was never able to answer that question easily -- somehow I knew that my life was a preparation for the work I was to do someday -- and that was how I would answer people. Now, at that point I had accomplished quite a few things -- I had been the editor-in-chief of my college newspaper, the business manager for the student radio on campus, a camera and mixer operator for the VCR crew, the student coordinator for the little Hillel group on campus, ran a struggling Tupperware business that helped pay my tuition and taught Hebrew and Sunday school at a nearby (20 minutes away) shul. But these things never came to mind -- I guess I never looked at them as accomplishments -- just things that I did, things I learned from. In fact, this is probably the first time in my life that I have listed these things in one place.
In later years I experienced many careers -- sales in a flower shop, research aide at the University of Pittsburgh, Chief Flight instructor, traffic watch pilot and announcer in Pittsburgh, Tire engineer for Goodyear, owned a full-service jewelry manufacturing company, and I am also a life coach and all-round crazy person. I have ten patents to my name and dabble at art. I have had my articles published, both fiction and non-fiction. I have published a magazine and done many other crazy things. And it only now that I am starting to realize that I was correct in my early days (the 70's), when I said that my life was a preparation -- it has been a preparation for the work I am now just starting to do. Each of these areas gave me knowledge and skills which I can now bring to task for the work of being a rabbi, a teacher. Without this background, I would not be as effective as I can be now.
So what follows what? Did I have to travel this path because I wanted to be a very good rabbi? Or will I become a good rabbi (hopefully) because nothing else really satisfied me and so I wandered my 40-year-11-day journey this way? What is eykev, because, and what is not?
I used to ask myself why I always had to pursue new things, new areas of learning. If I didn't know something, that would almost haunt me until I could learn the knowledge and the skill associated with that area. I am an obsessive student, never satisfied with what I know or the pace at which I learn.
At first glance, I could look at this list and say that everything is wildly different -- but not really when you think about how a rabbi could do a better job having these skills. Some of them even help me understand parts of Talmud better.
And there is still so much to learn, so much to do. I can readily identify with our people getting ready to cross over and start the work of the land -- a recap of where I/we have been and what has been learned is most appropriate. Much has been accomplished in the wandering, we are not an unskilled aimless people -- we are up to the task before us -- and it will be a challenging task -- because and on account of what we have done and what we will do and only if we step up to it.
1. Parsha details: Deut 3:23-7:11 ( tri 5:1-7:11 ) [ Haftorah Isaiah 40:1-26 ]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: The immediate future and our readiness, the recent and not so recent past, the challenges before us, our stiff-neckedness and how we have demonstrated that, God's love, the second paragraph of the sh'ma.
V'akhalta, v'savata, uv'rachta.... (8:10) When you have eaten and are satisfied -- then you shall bless YHVH over the goodness and sustenance that you have been given. And just in case you didn't understand exactly why this sequence is so critical, Torah goes on to explain the very dangers if we DO NOT do this -- we will forget that all goodness and bounty of this earth come from the One -- we will start to think it is our own doing. We will forget that we were once lowly and poor. Torah instructs that we need to be mindful that our power, our wisdom, what we are, comes from God, not from us. Without the One, we are nothing.
It is so easy to remember to pray and to appreciate the One when we want something -- but when we are satisfied, that is much harder.
I am reminded of a story my father (a'h) used to tell about two kings who had adjacent kingdoms. The one king oppressed his Jews terribly, making them suffer both physically and emotionally as well as monetarily -- and the harder he pushed, the stronger they became. One day, he looked at his neighbor's kingdom and he didn't notice any strong profoundly Jewish presence. This king was welcoming his Jews into the arts, businesses, everywhere and without restriction. "What are you doing?", the strict king asked the other -- "why aren't you restricting the Jews in your land -- in my land they are so strong, aren't you afraid of their power." The second king looked at him and replied "You get rid of your Jews your way and I'll get rid of mine my way" and he smiled.
It is much easier to forget who we are when we are satisfied. Can anyone deny having at least once in our lives saying something like "God, if You'll do xxxxx for me, I'll do yyyyy"? And if we are lucky enough that xxxxx happens, do we always remember to do yyyyy? And we are always like that to some extent. We drift away from God -- we forget to thank Her for a delicious meal, we forget to thank Him for the beautiful sky at sunset or even for the gift of Shabbat -- if we remember to accept the gift for our Souls.
And if we do a good job at performing these mitzvot we run a second danger -- that of thinking WE earned our good fortune -- wrong again -- we will drift again -- if not today, then tomorrow. We always have and we always will. Fortunately, as Moshe reminds us again in this Parsha, God loved the acts of love and kindness that our ancestors did when they acted in Her image -- and so we still are living in that appreciation, on that merit -- not ours. We are at the same time blessed and unworthy -- and we will be as long as we work at it.
As Moshe takes us though the ups and downs of our own lives and that of our parents, it is not hard to see the golden calves we have created and honored and when we have been truly stiff-necked.
A traditional translation for 10:16 would be "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked." -- it might be read as "Give voice to your natural (unpruned) heart and do not harden the rear of your neck any more." This might seem an unusual instruction until we recognize that vocalizing or giving voice to something is the first step in creating a new reality -- in this case, one that recognizes the love of God -- "For YHVH, is your God, the Power of the Powers, the Connection of Connections, the great God, powerful and awesome, who doesn't look at the face or take a bribe;" (10:17)
What an image -- and each of us -- all of us -- are created in that image. WOW!
Moshe -- how empowering you are! If we want to be God-like and that is the sincerest form of love -- then we are to ignore the outer "faces", reject bribes or personal gain and join to others in love. And if we do that, then we and those who join with us to do this work and open ourselves to that Love will experience it.
And if we don't -- if we neglect the gifts of this earth, then we shut the very skies. Shekhina will care for the Earth and kept her fertile and lush unless we abuse it and Her and ourselves. If we do that, then the rains will not fall in their seasons....
For many years, people thought that this second paragraph of the Sh'ma had no bearing in our non-agricultural exiled lives. We are only now starting to learn how true these words really are. We are like the teenager who was embarrassed about parents that seemed old-fashioned and out of it -- and as we grow up we come to recognize that they may have learned quite a bit (when I was four and ten I shunned my parents as foolish.... when I was one and twenty I was surprised how much they'd learned...)
3. Some Observations
The book of D'varim is quite notable in that it lacks the very common Torah phrase "Vaydabeyr YHVH el Moshe, leymor" -- "And YHVH spoke to Moshe, saying:" -- and that is because much of this Sefer (book) is Moshe talking to the children of Yisra'el right before we are to cross over the Jordan. This is just one of the ways that this Sefer is different from the other 4 books of the Torah.
The phrase Vaydabeyr YHVH is used 100 times in TaNaKH -- 3 times in D'varim, the current Sefer and not once in this Parsha. Of the 100 usages: (Shmot 14, Vayikra 35, B'midbar 44, D'varim 3, Y'hoshua 1, Kings 1, Chronicles 2)
to Moshe alone: 80 times
to Aharon alone: 2 times
to Moshe and Aharon together: 10
to Moshe in a different sentence structure: 2 (the opening to Vayikra and 1 in D'varim)
to others: 3 (Y'hoshua 1, Gad the seer of David -- 1, Menasheh (son of Hezekiah, King of Judah) 1)
in the third person to the people: 2, 1 in Torah, one in Kings
in the third person to Moshe: 1 in D'varim
"to me" said by Moshe: 1 in D'varim
For much of the earlier books, we are learning about the time in the wilderness and God's words are reported quite directly. That is not the case in this book and particularly in this Parsha -- these are Moshe's words, d'varim -- these are some of the things, the d'varim, that Moshe wishes to leave us with. We are like teenagers or young adults about to go out on our own -- what do you say to the strong child-adult as the transition is faced?
Moshe has been the parent, the teacher (we call him Moshe Rabeynu, Moshe, our teacher), the guardian, the nursemaid. At some point, if a person is to become an adult, they must go forth and fight their own battles. Those who bring us to the river cannot stay with us forever -- and this transition is exactly where we are in this Parsha and even in the yearly cycle.
Tisha B'Av is past, we are healing from that loss (as much as we can). We now face the hot summer without the comfort of the ancient Temple and Moshe is giving us his final summaries, his final lessons. This is our last chance to learn these lessons from the one who talked face-to-face with the One -- there will soon be no Moshe to act as our intermediary -- and we have needed him to act in that capacity. He even reminds us of that.
But sooner or later Yisra'el must grow up and stand on its own, without the intermediary -- will we be up to the task? Or are we still children? We will make mistakes -- mainly when we forget how important and how much a part of our lives is that special place where the Divine spark lives within us and in our neighbors and within the stranger. We are ALL created in that Divine image of Love and Kindness and humility. She is the power -- we are nothing without it. But with it -- we can do everything that needs to be done. We have the knowledge, the power, the wisdom, to do all that needs to be done. Will we do it?
4. Intimate Intimacy
Intimate Intimacy, the Foundation of Foundation. WOW. This parsha is about facing that part of ourselves and owning it completely. That gives us the strength and the wisdom to be successful and do what we need to do. This Parsha is about that deep inner work that will allow us to go forward.
Is is the intimacy that comes from listening to our Self and therefore to the Divine. That spark that lives in our heart of hearts. The spark that belongs to the Power of the Power, the Connection of the Connection. There are many other similar references in this Parsha -- such as the heavens of the heavens. This parsha is about the Essences that are the essence of us and of our being. Not the outer faces and the financial outwardness, but the inner depth and capital T Truth that defines us.
That is not an easy place to go -- we must face our own shortfalls, for we all have them -- and yet, with all that, we are still loved and cared for and nurtured. The demands on us to feel this Love are not difficult -- or are they? They sound so easy, but we are warned so many times that is cannot be easy. Like so many "easy" things -- it is not the task itself that is the tough part -- it is the doing and the feeling and the knowing and the being that hold us back. What does that view across the river look like to you?
1. V'akhalta, v'savata, uv'rachta....: Think of a time when you wanted something -- how easy was it to approach the One then? Did you want to offer a deal? Think of a time when you got what you wanted -- how did that feel? Did you feel the Divine hand in that event/action? Did you remember to thank the One. Were you satisfied with what you were given? Did you remember to thank the One then? How is eating the most basic representation of this concept? Where do get our food from?
2. Give voice to your natural (unpruned) heart: What is in our natural or unpruned heart. What would be different if we gave voice to that part of ourselves? What do we do when we harden the back of our necks? Is the stiffness the natural state or do we have to work at that? What would it feel like to give our natural heart a voice? How do we prune it? Why is the root of circumcise and giving voice the same?
3. Power of the Powers, the Connection of Connections: What does it mean when we say God is the Connection of the Connections? Adon is often translated as Master or Lord, but it means socket or sill or connection or joint. Do you feel connected to the Divine? Do you feel connected to the spark of the Divine in others? Do you feel connected to the spark of the Divine in yourself? How do you know when that connection is happening? What happens when you ARE connected?
ADS: ALEPH -- the Alliance for Jewish renewal. www.aleph.org If you aren't a member yet, please give very serious consideration to joining. The magazine, New Menorah, alone, is worth whatever you give. (Plus it helps pay for the rabbinic program where I am studying!)
And you can order the Torah Cards and my jewelry through Mercaz at (216)595-0707 -- ask for Larry)
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved