What a name for a Parsha "to see, to perceive, to conceive, to understand" -- the visual counterpart to sh'ma, "to hear, to listen, to comprehend, to be attentive to". And what is it we are to see? That I give or put before you, a blessing and a curse.
And who is the "I" that does this -- is it Moshe or is the One? Sometimes the line blurs -- especially in this sefer. This is the amazing thing about Moshe -- he becomes almost transparent for us, even when he is talking from his own memories and thoughts -- so strong is his channeling.
What was it like to Moshe to be in that place? I can only try to guess based on my own limited experiences. When I am working on something that involves channeling -- the experience is incredible. Sometimes the brew foments over a considerable amount of time -- sometimes it takes me a long time to "get it". I have just come through such a moment earlier today.
Ever since Tisha b'Av, I have been working and churning at something -- but I wasn't sure what it was. At first I thought it was just the intensity of Elat Chayyim following so closely on Kallah or perhaps it was powerful Tisha b'Av itself. Today I realized first that it was happening and then what the topic was. The topic was, in fact, Tisha b'Av, the public mourning day for the destruction of the Temple. I wrote that piece earlier today, but sent it out to our list right after this d'var. Partially so that I can talk about the process a bit.
My life might appear a bit turbulent right now thanks to so many things happening in it. Transitions are happening all around me -- the two shuls that are part of my life, the two new shuls where I will be teaching this year (9th grade Talmud and 6th grade Torah), trips, my own studies, HHD and, of course, work to support it all. (No wonder one of my mentors mentioned that I am doing a lot....)
But these things were not enough to explain the underlying feeling I was experiencing -- it was this fomentation. I struggled with it last week before and during my writing of the d'var -- and this week it seemed to keep me from getting focused even more. By this morning, it had surfaced enough to know that it needed to be written -- and so it was written first and will be mailed second. (It is on the thoughts part of this website -- here is a special link to take you there -----> CLICK HERE)
With that aside, I can see the aspect of a curse and a blessing in front of us. We are told that it is today -- right now -- that this is happening. One of my teachers has said that we are today the result of our attitudes and choices from yesterday. Our attitudes today and the choices we make today shape the future for tomorrow. And everything is at once BOTH a curse and a blessing.
So how do I say that to the family behind me that just lost their 34 year-old son in his own moment of thoughtlessness? While I was writing this, my neighbor stopped over to ask if I had heard about the death -- I hadn't. It seems the son had run a red light while riding on his motorcycle, without a helmet, and hit a car broadside, hard enough to make the car spin 180 degrees. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital a few blocks from the accident. (Car occupants not injured).
And this is like so many things in life. The real suffering is not the boy himself, but his family. I am sure he never meant to hurt them -- he was simply enjoying a moment of high speed or he was rushing somewhere. He left a fiance, too. A simple moment of thoughtlessness effects so many people -- it is impossible to gage the ripples.
So how do we live our lives in a way that it doesn't hurt others? When do we need to put aside our own wants and petty cares for the good of others and when do we take care of ourselves? And how do we recognize that what we do in a moment can be devastating, even if we didn't intend it to be.
Somehow the answer is in the blessing and the curse -- if we do things that help our true Sparks shine as we help others, the things that bind us to the One, then hopefully, we will see and experience and cause more blessings than curses. But if we step away from the One, hurting others, then we are not serving the One, and we will feel that curse. We will feel it inside as we eat ourselves up, bit by bit.
This is one in the series of Shabbats of comfort -- the healing as we emerge from Tisha b'Av, and through that healing, find the courage and strength to look inside us and do the deep Soul work we need to do to come up to the days of Awe, the days of approaching the One.
1. Parsha details: Deut 11:26-16:17 ( tri 15:1-16:17 ) [ Haftorah Isaiah 54:11-55:5 ]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: A blessing and a curse as we enter the land, centralized place (Temple), animals as food, but with a prohibition on blood, false prophets, other idolaters -- family and cities, holiness as children of YHVH, allowed and forbidden food animals, tithes, release of debt and of slaves, three pilgrimage holidays.
This Parsha spends a considerable amount of time talking about other gods besides the One. This theme is part of the blessing/curse dichotomy and part of the false prophets and the warning against friends and family that secretly (or not so secretly) entice you to seek other gods. Torah tells us they are not prophets to be followed -- and they are not to be listened to, even if they are family and friends.
An interesting point, how Torah dwells on this subject. We are warned that such enticements are tests of YHVH -- designed to show if we really love YHVH with all our heart and with all our soul. The Hebrew is particularly strong and poetic here -- and like all Hebrew of this type -- open to many layers and meanings. The Hebrew mirrors the words of the sh'ma, where we are instructed to love YHVH with all of our heart and with all of our souls.
That section, so recent, was about hearing and understanding at that level -- this Parsha talks about seeing and being seen. If we love YHVH, then we will follow the One and with the One "tira'u". This word is one of my pet discussion points with Torah translators.
Typically this verse is translated as "to fear, to be in awe of, to give honor to" YHVH. It can also be translated as With YHVH "be seen, be visible, appear, show oneself". The roots of these words are not isolated and apart from themselves. To see, to grasp with great comprehension, the very essence that She is both Present and beyond comprehension is to yireh -- to have intense giving of so much more than respect -- it is to recognize exactly how central to everything He is. It is that fleeting fraction of a fraction of a second when it makes sense and you realize, truly realize that nothing can be hidden from that One -- there is either love of heart and soul or there is emptiness and incredible pain. Perhaps that is why it is sometimes called fear...
Torah teaches here that the temptation to follow the false prophet or the friend "who is as your own soul" and who entices you in secret is the greatest test of what is inside you.
So what is Torah getting at with these warnings. They are much deeper, I think, than would first appear. Also, a considerable amount of parchment is given to this issue. So it is a key -- for Torah is always right there with the teaching we need right now.
It is the pulling away from YHVH in secret -- so how can anything be secret from YHVH? Obviously nothing is secret from the One. Secrets are the things we hide from others and from ourselves. Secrets are the things that make us go away from God because we know we are doing wrong, both in Her eyes and in our own.
I remember a friend's parent once explaining that a good test of what you were doing is whether or not you could let your mother (I might now say Shekhina, the mothering, nurturing One) in on what you were really trying to do. And I understood that he meant the real motive, not the little lie you tell yourself or others. Could you show what is really in your heart and would that generate an openness and welcoming of love between you or would it cause you pain.
As a Life Coach, we teach that you know in your Heart of Hearts what is really the best answer for your own questions. I think that is just a secular way of saying the same thing that Torah is saying here -- with all of your heart and with all of your soul.
Hearing moves us from doing to feeling, Seeing moves us from feeling to knowing -- but it is not the external seeing, it is the internal Seeing and being seen. When is it a blessing and when is it a curse?
3. Some Observations
When I look at the Tikun for this Parsha, I see the word "ki" -- "because" jumping out at me. Often this word is translated as when or if, but I think that using because highlights the relationship between the two or more things Torah is talking about. There would be a subtle difference in the first sentence of this paragraph if I had started it with "Because I looked at the Tikun for this Parsha..."
The sections starting "because" in this parsha are:
"Because YHVH widens your boarders, as He said, and you say you will eat meat because your soul craves it, with all the passion of your soul, you will eat meat." 12:20
"Because YHVH cuts down the nations that are where you are going.... do not be ensnared by their ways..." 12:29
"Because there arose to you a prophet.....who said follow other gods... do not listen to their words -- it is a test.." 13:2-4
"Because you were tempted by your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter...in secret, saying.... don't desire it and don't listen to him" 13:7-9
"Because you heard that in one of the cities that YHVH gave you....that... and you sought out, investigated and questioned fully and the matter was true and correct..... strike intensely the inhabitants.." 13:13-18
"Because there is among you a poor man...don't embolden your heart or allow your hand to pass over...." 15:7
"Because you were sold one of your Hebrew brethren and s/he works for you for six years.....in the seventh year...set free" 15: 12-15
These "ki"s are accented strongly in the troph, the Torah's musical notes -- so their importance is underscored. There is definitely a cause-effect relationship to what we are expected to do. These are not idle concepts -- these are real challenges, obligations, expectations resulting from real situations already known to exist. One can discuss the tense of the verb, always a fun game with Torah, but not the relationship between the condition and what we are expected to do "because" of it.
There are many pieces-parts to this Parsha -- it is the collection of bits and pieces, thematically collected. However, the Parsha reads fine if one goes from the acknowledgement that we will eat meat to what is allowed to eat and not to eat. If we do this, we cut out the sections of warnings against idolatrous practices in the Land. This is the kind of text-critical reading that makes one ask why these prohibitions are inserted here.
Two obvious things come forward -- namely that food and eating is how many idolatrous or drifting behaviors start. The biblical version of "Let's do lunch and see what happens" -- how many deals have been cut, especially unethical ones, that start with either eating together or at least in tempting seductions from "friends" and "family"?
Doing things that take us away from God often happen innocuously at first -- just a little drifting. We slip a little more, gently taken there by people we trust -- either because they "prove" it to us or because we care about them. In the end -- it's all about because.
4. Intimate Grounding
Intimate Grounding, the Kingdom of Foundation -- yes, that is what is here in this Parsha. The Foundation is in knowing, seeing and in recognizing the dangers and the temptations of everyday life. The Kingdom, the grounding of the intimate, is in understanding the resulting expectations and the recognition that who we are and what we are will shine through us, no matter what.
We will be tested in our lives, many times. What will we learn from these tests and how will we measure up against these expectations. Sometimes our Love of the One will shine forth -- and sometimes it won't.
As we climb out of the hole of grieving for own losses, we need to ask ourselves what are we grieving about -- is it the loss of someone because we cared and our souls mingled? Or is it the loss suffered by our egos as dreams and wishes failed to come to fruit? Both of these losses require work and grieving -- the cause and effect relationship is different, but they are all because.
This Parsha, as it exemplifies the grounding of the intimate, helps us approach this healing work as community as we prepare to come together and approach the One.
1. Life and Death, blessing and curse: What makes the difference? Today is the first day of the rest of your life and it is the last day of your past. We are given a new day each day to do with as we choose. We are given choice -- at least as long as we live. We can choose to help people or to hurt them -- to bless or to curse them. Blessed are they that bless and cursed are they that curse. Today may be the last day of your life -- what do you choose?
2. Because: What causes what? Why do things happen as they do? Are we merely the unthinking robots of history or do we choose to act. What can we change? When are we responsible. If Torah says because is that because we will do the wrong thing if we don't think? If we fail to think and choose, are we cursing or blessing? If we think about something before we react, can we turn a curse into a blessing?
3. Banim atem l'YHVH (You are children of YHVH): What does it mean to be a child of YHVH? What does it mean to be holy to YHVH? What does it mean to be a holy nation? Is this a blessing or a curse? What obligations do we incur when we recognize and accept these designations or assignments? Can we reject them? What are our choices?
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