And we draw ever closer to the New Year and the Days of Reflection. This is always a hectic time as we try live our "normal" lives and add into it those special things for the special days.
This makes me think to an earlier Shabbat this year when Reb Daniel Seigel was leading our Shabbat davvening at Elat Chayyim -- he was pointing out the dual nature of that particular Shabbat which also happened to be Rosh Khodesh Av. He said: "It's Shabbat, but it's Av, It's Rosh Khodesh, but it's Rosh Khodesh Av, It's the Shabbat of new rabbis (being ordained the next day), but it's Av...." and the theme continued. His voice and face expressing joy and happiness and then "remembering" the pain.
For me this particular HHD time is the same way. It's Elul, but the Land and the People are hurting. It's Elul, but my neighbor's son was killed. It's Elul, but my friend's parent is ill. I could go on and on, back and forth. There are great joys that are happening in my life right now -- like the INCREDIBLE gift of full scholarship to the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies -- and there are incredible pains.
And everywhere I look I see this duality -- whether in my past or in the present. (1973 HHD come to mind rapidly -- that was also a very tense time -- I had just returned from a year in Israel and I knew then that war was at most weeks away, if not days. I wonder how different it feels there now -- then the "action" was border stuff -- now it is internal borders stuff.)
A friend of mine just referred me to a website with a little bulletin board on it that had posed the question of whether or not all things can be forgiven. I looked at a few of the posts. One thread went into a dialogue between Jews and Christians, another went into Shoah (Holocaust) and another went into intentions and mixed the terms transgressions and sins such that they meant the same things.
My first reaction was to say, Gee, let me explain the difference between sins (errors of not knowing) and transgressions (errors with intention to "err"). And then I stopped.
The discussion threads were quite interesting, but the listener in me kicked in -- and it recognized two things -- nobody on the list was "listening" to the previous post before they answered -- and I was almost sucked into the same game.
V'haya ki tavo el ha'Aretz asher YHVH Elohekha noteyn l'kha nakhala viyrish'tah v'yashavta ba. And it will be because you come to the Land which YHVH, your God gives you as a legacy, and you will own it as a heritage and stop-and-steep yourself in it. (26:1)
One of the hardest lessons for my ego to accept is that conflict happens to shake us awake to something. Sometimes it is because we have not been paying attention to what is in front of us and we need some "doors slammed" in our faces. Sometimes it is because we have been fighting something obvious to the more objective folks around us that it is time to put our efforts elsewhere. I am reminded of people who admit long after they are fired from a job that it was, in fact, among the best things that ever happened to them.
So I've learned, painfully (and will continue to learn), that when conflict arises, one needs to step back from the rocking and swaying long enough to see what is really being said, what is really being served and what the real lesson is. This does NOT mean avoiding conflict, but rather embracing it -- not as a participant, but as a listener.
I have been taught (Thanks Judith) that there are three levels of listening. The first level of listening is when we keep think about how this relates to us and what we can say in response. Many people live here. The danger in always living here is two-fold -- 1) not really listening and 2) being perceived as very self-centered. The second level of listening is as a reporter would listen to things -- seeking facts and details -- who did what, who said what, perhaps to record these details for future use or for an article, or something similar. The danger of living here is becoming too "cold" and detached from the discussion and being perceived as uncaring. The third level of listening is at a much deeper level -- it is with the whole being and it is listening to everything available -- sound, tone, words chosen and so on. You are listening at this level when you are answering the question "what are they/you really reacting to" or when you make an "intuitive hit" that there is something other than the words going on.
This third level is what is meant by Sh'ma -- Listen, really listen. So how does conflict play into this? By (hopefully) getting our attention and saying to us "Stop for a moment before you get so dizzy you fall down -- and LISTEN".
And listening means quieting down and clearing the system and especially the mind of the adrenalin pumped into it by our anger and our frustration. And recognize that this effort make take quite a while and it may not happen at once. Maybe that's why there are 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?
We are coming out of the depths of Av, especially Tisha b'Av, with the healing born of true grieving and the recognition that the grieving is for all of our own individual losses as well as those of our various connectivities. We have been comforted now for 6 weeks.
From that place, perhaps we can learn that we do not have all of the answers. And that it is okay not to have all of the answers, which may be even harder to accept. And maybe when we can accept that, we are moving into the spiritual Land and can accept it and offer up the first fruits of gratitude.
1. Parsha details: Deut 26:1-29:8 ( tri 27:11-29:8 ) [ Haftorah Isaiah 60:1-22 ]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: First Fruit offerings and tithes. Altar with words, Curses and blessings on the mountains.
Curses and blessings, again. And a warning that if we listen to this Torah (instruction) than we will be blessed and if not, then we will be cursed. WOW. Hatorah hazot -- THIS torah -- the emphasis on THIS and not so much on torah -- because this is the other meaning of torah -- the one that means instruction.
This year my Hebrew school class is learning about Torah -- what it is, how to unlock the mysteries and how to take it from the Ark, read from it, and how to return it. Lots of Torah -- and lots of torahs (instructions) about how to treat Torah. We talked this first session about what a Torah is and what the word means.
I asked them if they bought a new computer and it was all shrink-wrapped -- would it come with a torah? I hope that next week they remember they were answering that question with a yes by the end of class.
And so this torah that Torah is talking about is in this Parsha -- and what it that Torah? It something other than the covenant at Khorev -- Torah specifically says that this covenant is besides that one.
The covenant is about the curses -- accepting and taking in that knowledge --they are:
--Cursed be the person who makes any engraved or molten image, an anathema to YHVH, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.
--Cursed be the person who dishonors his father or his mother.
--Cursed be the person who shifts a neighbor's landmark.
--Cursed be the person who causes the blind stumble on the path.
--Cursed be the person who perverts the judgments regarding the stranger, orphan, and widow.
--Cursed be the person who sleeps with a parent's spouse.
--Cursed be the person who sleeps with any kind of beast.
--Cursed be the person who sleeps with a sibling, the child of the father, or the child of the mother.
--Cursed be the person who sleeps with an in-law.
--Cursed be the person who strikes a neighbor secretly.
--Cursed be the person who takes a bribe to slay an innocent person.
--Cursed be the person who does not maintain all the words of this torah to do them.
Twelve things -- all secret things -- all things that the community will not be likely to know is happening, but which will serve to hurt and disrupt the community. Things that are done in secret to hurt people either physically or emotionally or politically or to embarrass them in some way are among the most heinous things cited in Torah -- and in this Parsha, we are taught that the people accepted that the person who did these kind of things would be cursed and they would in turn, curse the community. WOW. Pretty heavy stuff.
And they didn't have psychologists and social workers to tell them that these kinds of behaviors were destructive to the individual and the community.
And if we as individuals and as communities guard against things that hurt people secretly, what a difference that could make. Obviously, if we guard against them in secret, we know that they are things that are not to be done publicly and condoned, either. In fact, the assumption in this section is that is these things were done in public, the punishment of the community would be quick.
And the blessing that will result to adherence to these ideals -- we will blessed in just about everything we do -- us, our children and our households. Coming, going and just about everything in between. We will be fulfilled as a holy nation to YHVH, as promised because we protect the Mitzvot and walk the path.
Conversely, if we fail to guard against these behaviors, we will be brought low -- our systems will fail us, our enemies will get the upper hand because we will not have the community to support each other. If we allow people to behave derisively then the stress levels will be very high and even our own immune systems and our very psyches will be damaged and unable to fight off even simple infections.
This doesn't mean that every cold is a sign of somebody doing something wrong -- this is about a large scale overall picture. If we treat each other in accordance with these concepts, all of our people will benefit and we will be much healthier -- psychologically and physically.
And what action most typifies striking a neighbor in secret? What we normally refer to as Lashon haRa (wicked language) otherwise known as character assassination -- Because this strikes at people without their knowing and usually in a way that the harmed person cannot fight back -- and it is much worse than physically hitting someone.
In fact, mostly, these evils pertain to doing things to people and animals who, because of the nature of the action or their own situation are unable to defend adequately against the perpetrator. And so the perpetrator is to be cursed -- and so is the nation that allows these things to happen.
How do you prevent it? By teaching and by not participating. There are no easy rules here -- listen to your heart and do what you can to make things a blessing for all concerned.
3. Some Observations
V'halakhta el hamakom asher yiv'khar YHVH Elohekha lshakeyn Sh'mo sham "and go to the place that YHVH, your God, chose to cause the Name to indwell there." (26:2) That takes reading a few times and letting it just roll around to get the deeper meaning. YHVH chooses a place that becomes SO synonymous with Divine Presence that the Presence and the Name blend together and the place becomes the Home of the Name.
This echoes one of the blessings: V'ra'u kol-amey ha'aretz kiy Sheym YHVH nik'ra 'alekhah v'yar'u mimekha. "And all the people of the land will see that the Name of YHVH is called out through you and they will comprehend [the Divine] from you." (28:10) What a blessing that would be -- to be so in tune with the One, so transparent, that others grasp what that closeness is all about just from seeing us. Oh, that we could learn to behave toward our fellow humans in a way that would bring us all absolutely close to the Divine -- that we could support each other through healing and returning instead of inflicting new wounds on each other through moments of just not thinking. As we approach these days of deep introspection may we find new ways to approach so fully, so openly that we can embody this blessing and become a blessing beShaym YHVH (in the Name of Yah).
This Parsha is one of those Parshayot where even the troph, the musical notes mean so much. It is easy to read this Parsha and just say, oh, it's a bunch of blessings and curses -- what do those things mean today anyway.
At a light reading of the blessings and the curses one might think they are simply mirror images - but they are not. There are some very interesting blessing -- like "you will be above and not below".(28:13) I encourage everyone to get out two copies of the texts and to line them up side by side and make a note of what is mirrored and what is different -- think about why Torah would have these differences and see what it all means. This is too long and too powerful an exercise for me to include it in its entirety or to not recommend it. I invite a dialogue about this.
Every once on a while the great incredible depth that is in Torah, reveals itself almost at the surface of the words themselves. This is such a section. This depth and teaching is far beyond the "science" of psychology in the days when it was committed to parchment -- far beyond the simple cause-and-effect relationship we understand better today.
Another aspect of the blessings and curses is to think of the blessings in the sense of unbounded love and grace, which we might call Khesed and the curses in the sense of rules and restrictions, which we might call Gevurah. And these are interesting aspects. People sometimes want to purely receive Khesed and when that doesn't happen, one might be tempted to say "God doesn't exist, because I have this narrow image of perfection and God doesn't meet that definition." (They wouldn't say it in these words, but this is really the gist of many such comments). Or sometimes people say "Boy, the idea of curses -- that's so negative -- it doesn't work for me."
The reality is that both of these aspects exist and in sufficient and proper measure overall (does that mean that I am always happy with what I experience -- of course not -- but I am learning to accept it). There are two keys, here, I think -- one is that these aspects are always present with their counterpart to some extent, sometimes more, sometimes less -- the key is to seek the appropriate balance for the time. The second aspect is strongly taught here -- namely that we ourselves determine the ultimate curse or blessings for our actions. And just as the curse we bring on ourselves is for things we do "in secret", so may the curse itself be in secret.
It is so easy to judge by external appearances -- we are taught by society to do just that. But the real answer is deep within the Self -- are we blessing ourselves by our thoughts and actions or are we cursing ourselves. If something isn't "working" for you -- may I suggest you take a look at your motives for the action -- is there a way you can shift what you are doing and why you are doing it so that what you do can be a blessing to you and to those around you. Sometimes the biggest secret is what we try to keep secret from our own Self.
4. Grounding Harmony
We are taught that this Parsha is about Grounding Harmony. WOW -- the balance between Gevurah (Strength) and Khesed (Mercy, Grace) found in the Presence. This balance is often called Tiferet (Beauty) and sometimes the Presence is called Kingdom. What a great theme to be coming toward the Days of Awe - Yamim Nora'im.
The comfort of this Parsha is in finding the balance, the place of Beauty between the curses and the blessings. And it comes in accepting ownership of our own actions that lead to blessings or curses. And the wonderful recognition that we CAN change what we do at any time. Thankfully, we are accepted and judged at the moment -- may we all move just a bit closer to that place of Harmony.
1. Name of YHVH: In what way do your actions teach the Name? How can the Essence of YHVH be comprehended by seeing you and what you do. Can others tell that there is an in-dwelling in you? Can you? What can you learn about YHVH by looking inside yourself?
2. Blessings and Curses: Is there anything that you do in secret that acts as a blessing or a curse? Blessings can result from secret actions. What makes something be a curse to you and others, what makes it be a blessing? How can you protect a blessing and make it grow? How can you change a curse into a blessing?
3. Being transparent with YHVH: What does it mean to be transparent with YHVH? How do we maintain the gift of who we are and still become transparent so that others can see YHVH in and through us? What does that mean? We are all unique and that uniqueness is part of our gift to the Divine -- are we supposed to give it up or can it help us become transparent?
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