Rabbi Shafir's Weekly D'var Torah
D'varim (Deuteronomy)
I publish a weekly D'var Torah on the Parsha of the week.  They are archived here.  If you would like to get these by email as they are published, please email me and I will add you to the list.
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Nitzavim (You stand erect) [7th of 7 comforts]

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1. Parsha details 
2. Questions (and a few observations) on the excerpts
3. Some other Observations
4. Grounding Perseverance
5. Exercises
What a week, and an interesting Parsha.  We teach that the Parsha has applicability to what is happening in our lives -- but how could it possibly relate to this week? 

How can a person hope to put arms around something like this?  And the answer is that we cannot put our arms around it.  We can only take the hands of another person and silently acknowledge their pain and grief and shock and our own.  

As I listen to each surfacing story of individuals, I realize that it is precisely the stories of the individuals that matters.  The buildings, while beautiful and magnificent, were just steel and concrete.  I do hope they are rebuilt, although I dread the thought of the engineering challenges of making a jet-airliner-proof building.  (They were "small-aircraft"-proof, just not "two-airliners-with-cross-country-fuel"-proof) 

I think my insight into the attachments we sometimes have with buildings (see Tisha b'Av) may explain part of why they were targets and I think that the "aha" I recently had from a quote from the NY Times may add some to this:
        "And another resident said: "Abu Snan has army generals, sons 
         that were killed in wars. We won't let one rogue terrorist destroy 
         the name of our village. His house ought to be destroyed." " 
         (Italics mine - c)

This quote came from an Israeli-Arab neighbor of the Israeli Arab that had just blown himself up in the latest bombing rash. (The Army generals referenced are in the Israeli Army)

The part that struck me was the quote about the house.  To the person speaking, the house is much more than brick and mortar (or steel and concrete) -- it represents some of the "eternity" of that person -- a witness to who they are.

And that is what the towers were to someone filled with so much hate for Americans that nothing else mattered.  Someone so filled with hate that others drank from the same well enough to give their lives to kill others to accomplish this goal.  We could go off on the tangent that the value of life is different in the two cultures and I would agree that it is.  I also am aware that the suicide hijackers believed that they will go instantly to heaven and that some are taught that their death will occur at a particular time and that the only thing they can do is to "use" that death to propel themselves to heaven.

And yet I see a problem in this discussion -- the problem is that it "we-them"s us.  We are all people and there is One God.  That God is One who loves, One who is willing to accept us whenever we get around to returning to the Face that faces us.  I do not believe that I am better than anybody else and I do not believe that Jews are better than anybody else -- I don't think that what "bakhar" -- chosen, selected is about.

The "bakhar" is the first-born, the one with the responsibility to take care of the family, the child that is there to help the parent(s) out.  And in that role, we were given Torah -- a set of instructions and guides -- so that we could be examples and guides.  It does not mean anything about quality -- it has to do with responsibility and work to be done.  

Torah also tells us we are "avdey Elohim" -- workers of God.  We were brought out of the Mitzrayims (the tight places) of our lives so that we could learn HOW to be of service.  We were never promised an easy time of things -- this is about working and struggling and finding peace and joy in that.

YHVH is about love and mercy -- and so people say "how can this be love?" -- Well, I think I heard an answer that rang a bit true one night this week.  The questioner asked why God didn't stop this atrocity and horror -- and the answer given was that God, in fact, loves us too much to do that.

And while a first response to that might be "huh???!!!??? How can causing this much pain and grief and hurt be love."  And I'll grant that at a top level, it is easy to ask that.  So the answer is obviously much deeper than that.  And the answer does not stop the pain or the hurt -- only healing can do that.  And most of the time we cannot heal completely, there are scars.  That is the price for free will.

I don't pretend to "know the answer" -- oh, I can cite traditional explanations and other "stuff" -- and I know that none of that matters when it is someone we love, someone with whom our souls have knit over time.  The Soul bleeds terribly when these rends occur.  

But pain is part of life, part of loving and caring.  We do not pray for supernatural things to occur -- we pray that we have the strength and the courage to face what is and to go on.

And so we need to be the d'var, the thing, the stuff of life for others that need our help right now.  Can we make it right for them?  No.  We can only hold their hands, steady them so that they can pull themselves a little more upright and acknowledge their pain.  And we can look at ourselves in a mirror and say "Thank you" for something we have today.

If we focus on the loss, we will be lost -- if we focus on the future, we can heal and be thankful.

Candy Lobb
1. Parsha details: Deut 29:9-30:20 ( tri 29:9-30:20 ) [ Haftorah Isaiah 61:10 - 63:9 ] 
2. Questions and a few observations

Summary: The people stand before YHVH and Moshe, enter the brit (covenant), A promise that if we return to YHVH and open our hearts and souls, abundance will follow.  Instructions that these things are doable and not beyond our reach.

The Parsha starts with a description that I think is very accurate of Americans today -- we stand erect before God and each other.  And we stand with our leadership, trusting that they do have a plan and are doing the best they can.  The Parsha says that the people standing are leaders and workers, wives, children, and every other classification of people -- all standing together.  That fits pretty good.

And the Parsha talks about a having a choice set before us.  It is the theme we have been hearing about -- a blessing or a curse, life or death.  So how can we be facing a blessing this week?  By honoring those that have been lost by following Torah ("to love YHVH, your God, to really listen to the Voice, to be attached to the One, because that is Life and Light of your days to receive the promise of the earth."(30:20))  And we do this by approaching God with open hearts and wholeness of Soul.

Can we do this on a week like this?  Yes, but not without pain and effort.  This effort will not bring us down, it is not far from us.  We do not have to reach into heaven or cross the seas to do it (it says that in Torah -- 30:11-14).  And we would surely agree that we have had set before us life and good (in the rescue workers and heroes) and death and evil.

The choice is before us, as it always is.  I can hear you say "Did those people choose what happened to them?"  Obviously the answer is no (with the exception of the hijackers, of course).  But what they could choose is how they lived their lives in the minutes and hours and days before the horror.  And those that survived the initial impact chose how they reacted to it.  I believe most of them chose to act courageously and heroically.

We will all die someday -- some tragically.  Some will have a little warning, most not.  Any one of us could die without warning -- this week has certainly demonstrated that.  And the key to grasping that is to live fully now.  Let life be full of blessings and wonder and thanksgiving.  We do that by acknowledging the pain and by being grateful for the joys and the sharing that opened our hearts and Souls enough to feel the pain.

Oriental wisdom teaches that we can only feel joy that fills the space created by pain.  The greater the pain the greater the potential joy -- if we never feel any pain, we will know no joy.

So let us chose life and live -- and thereby honor those whose life among us has been cut shorter than we could ever have expected.  May their sparks join speedily with the Holy One and may they be blessed with full measures of Khesed(Mercy) and Ahavah(Love).  And may those that have been left in our world find comfort and healing among all of the One's children. 
3. Some Observations

The Tikkun shows this Parsha to have three partial spaces -- no full openings.  This, then is a well practiced piece and often recited, as we might expect.  The pauses come at interesting points:  "And ...when all these things have come ..., the blessing and the curse, ... you will return them to your heart..." (30:1) and "For this Mitzvah which I command you this day, is not hidden from you" (30:11) and "See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil" (30:15).

Perhaps the spaces represent unrecorded questions -- it is easy to see how they might have happened in such a time as a new covenant, a new contract.  Or perhaps they simply represent time for the key points to sink in more fully.  Or, perhaps, Moshe wanted full and complete attention to the key points that these pasukim (verses) bring out.  He may have stopped at these points, looked around for a few moments to ensure eye contact, and then continued.

Hard to know exactly what was going on -- and yet, we are bound into that contract, because it was made with those standing there and those not (yet?) standing there.  Then each of us needs to face up to that contract.  And it is not a contract that says only good things will happen -- it is clear that at all times there will be both good and bad, life and evil.  And we will always have the choice of what we do with the choices before us.

We are never victims of circumstance -- we are masters of our own thoughts and actions.  We can choose to let others dominate us or we can choose to love the One who loves us and do the things that come out of that love.  Anger and hate do not come out of Love -- they only come from turning away from that Love.  
4. Grounding Perseverance

This week's Parsha is about Grounding Perseverance, which is the Eternity of the Presence.  Definitely a quality we need to be mindful of this week -- and if I read this Parsha correctly, this has always been a week for those considerations.  That is not surprising the week before Rosh Hashanah.  

This year, the points are much more graphic and on a much grander scale. The choices before us are very critical for our way of life and the freedoms and blessings we have built in this country.  But this time of year is always a time for choosing life and love or not.  Death is not a punishment unless it is not choosing to live while you are alive.  We have been sharply reminded that today is the first day of the rest of our lives -- and there are no guarantees how long that will be.

So we can be mindful that the Presence is Eternal and Everlasting.  And so is the Spark that is within us all.  And until it is the right time for that Spark to rejoin the One, let us work to choose life and keep our perseverance grounded in the love and work for which we have been chosen.

5. Exercises

1. Contract with YHVH: What is "cut" when we cut a covenant with YHVH?  How do we live up to our side of the contract?  How do we Love the One?  What does that imply?

2. Blessings and Curses: How do actions speak blessings?  What actions can turn curses into blessings?  Can you find a blessing in a curse?  How do you choose?  And what do we choose when we fail to make a conscious choice?

3. Comfort: What will bring you comfort?  How do you help someone else find comfort?  How does silence speak volumes?  How do words become noise?  How do words becomes silence?  What is said and what is unsaid?

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 

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