Rosh Hashana and healing. And trying to get back to life and community from our collective "tamey" state. One of my pet discussions is about Tamey and Tahor -- what do they really mean. I get very tired of hearing "unclean" and "clean" since they do not describe it.
However, now we have a Tamey reference -- it is the way the country felt on Sept 12th. Thanks to modern technology, we "touched" the death of the people killed in the attacks, and we have experienced what that touching can do.
One of the things I have decided to do as part of my response to our feelings is to post some of the prayers I have written on my website. I set up a special section with graphics to highlight themes (so far there is the 9/11 piece and Tisha b'Av). I had thought that picking a graphic would be easy for this effort -- I was wrong.
First, I thought, gee, I'll just find a neat picture of a US flag, hopefully something a little different from everything else out there (artistic ego and all....)
And then I thought about the flag more -- I thought about being Jewish and being American -- two aspects about my being that have always been important to me.
Both of my parents were Shoah survivors and lived as immigrants to the US. My father had spent some time fighting in Israel (then Palestine) to help that country be born. In fact, it was to support Israel that he originally came to the US. He fell in love with the US and even served as a chaplain in the military here. My mother's sister already lived in New York, so that is where she came with the rest of her family. They met one day in NY and some significant number of years later I was born in Brooklyn. We moved out of New York when I was 6 months old. (Much of my parent's family still live in and around NY. My niece lives in the Village and works somewhere in Manhattan (still not sure exactly where).)
And so I was raised as both an American and as a Jew. As I have mentioned before, I lived in Israel twice when I was younger. People would ask me if I was planning on making Aliyah to Israel and I would say probably not. I am deeply connected to Israel, and yet, I know that I do not fit in there very well. Female rabbis who are outspoken are not all that welcome, at least not yet.
And even if that was not an issue, I think I would still live here in the US -- at least for the foreseeable future. Part of that feeling is because I do feel very much at home in the US -- for my practice, the US is more tolerant religiously. Our freedom of religion is pretty powerful. Is there antisemitism here? Of course. I have been the victim of it a few different times in both subtle and not so subtle ways. And there is a lot of other hatred, a lot of other OTHERING going on all over the world.
I remember talking with a Russian Immigrant in Jerusalem once and he made an interesting observation that brought home to me part of this. He said that all his life in the USSR he was a Jew. Now he has moved to Israel and suddenly, he is a Russian. It's about being "different" in some way.
When that difference is used to "other" people and make them less than "us" that we have a problem. Things that encourage othering are fear and anger. Unfortunately, we are seeing a great deal of that in the wake of the anger in people's response to the attacks.
So what can we do to help allay fear and dispel anger? Whether that anger is directed at man or at God, anger is always a distancer with God. This week's Parsha reminds us that anger prevented Moshe from entering the Land and it warns us that YHVH's anger with the people will create a distancing there as well.
In the course of this week I have seen anger in many people and I have seen it blasted in many ways. And I have felt little that I can do beyond acknowledging to these individuals that they are angry. I have this image of the therapist that says to the guy who breaks into his office and screams that he is angry "You are angry".
And yet I would love to be able to do more. And obviously, the work to help with that anger needs to be done long before someone becomes angry -- if we are to do something in this area it needs to happen before the adrenalin is pumping in our bodies.
And so I labored to find a graphic that would not offend and that would be sensitive and capture what would be the essence of what I was feeling. If you are curious about what I picked, go to my website and see. And if you want to know more about the decisions and choices I made -- that's there, too.
G'mar Khatima Tova to all.
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: Moshe goes out to the people and reminds them that YHVH will be with them as they enter the Land. In front of the people, Moshe charges Yehoshua to lead them with Khazak v'Ematz (Strength and courage). Moshe and Yehoshua meet with YHVH who warns that the people will drift. YHVH charges Yehoshua to have Khazak v'Ematz. Moshe instructs the Levi'im to keep a copy of this Torah (instruction) beside the Ark of the Covenant, and Moshe prepares to teach a final song/poem to all Israel.
So Moshe charges Yehoshua in public and YHVH charges him in private with Khazak v'Ematz. Khazak can be translated as "strong, firm, severe, sinewy, mighty, hefty, brawny, burly, stout, robust, potent, vigorous, forceful, telling, massive, forte, intense, foursquare, masculine, virile, forcible." Ematz can be translated as "courage, pluck, nerve, intrepidity, gallantry, grit, stoutness, spunk, fortitude."
It is interesting that this is the charge to the man who was picked for this role because "ru'akh bo" (the spirit is in him). In the Parsha where he is first selected for this role (over Moshe's sons), he is contrasted against Pinkhas who is selected as the High Priest because of his zeal. So we would expect that Yehoshua is the more compassionate, the more sensitive. Often these traits are viewed as weak, so perhaps that is why he is reminded to be strong and courageous and that all of the eyes of Yisrael will be on him, taking their clue from what he does.
We have been hearing a lot this week about the many roles of the leader and the importance of Khazak v'Ematz is certainly appropriate for the newest leader of the US. Perhaps their is a message here for the balance needed in a leader. One must have the compassion, the spirit inside and then be projecting strength in the public realm. We do not see Yehoshua being charged to be compassionate because that is part of who he is -- that is in his core. The strength needs to be buttressed.
If Moshe charged me with this in from of everyone, I would probably take note of it. If YHVH spoke these same words to me out of a pillar of cloud on the opening to the Tent, I would certainly remember it. And the instruction comes from YHVH alongside a warning that the people will drift and distance themselves from YHVH with this drifting because they will be the source of Divine anger.
This is a strong warning to Yehoshua that the worst will come just at a time when Yehoshua might expect the people to approach YHVH the most, namely after seeing how good things are for them. Isn't that exactly when we stray the most? When things are going well for us, we tend to credit ourselves instead of recognizing the Divine Gifts.
YHVH knows this will happen and that this will lead to anger. And so we are given two "helps" to bring us back -- Yehoshua's strength and a final poem (check back next week for details...). What sins will the people do that are so horrible? Dealing corruptly (perhaps thanks to fear?) and drifting from the path of Godliness. Yehoshua must brace himself for this eventuality and have the "pluck" to take the people through it and back to YHVH.
3. Some Observations
We are promised some rough times in this Parsha. There will be good times and times when the Divine is hidden from us -- but only because we have caused the distancing. Is it any surprise that this would be a theme right before Yom Kippur? It is also amazing how much the daily events underscore and fit with the theme of this Parsha. It happens all the time and yet, I am always amazed.
This is a short Parsha and it is by itself this year. (Often it is combined with last week's Parsha.) Thirty pasukim (verses) -- and even so, there is still a great deal in these few pasukim. If it hasn't been apparent before this, then this week's Parsha makes it very apparent that the entire book of D'varim (Deuteronomy) is about transitions -- From Moshe to Yehoshua -- over the Yardeyn (Jordan) -- from nomad to land-based.
And yet a key theme of the entire book is love and approaching the One. It is not sugar-coated; there are strong, even harsh warnings that we have the power to decide which way we will go -- either toward the One or distancing ourselves.
Yehoshua is told by Moshe that as he brings Yisrael to the Land that YHVH will be there with them and that he is not to be afraid or terrified. YHVH also assured Yehoshua that he will not be alone, that YHVH will be there.
So if YHVH is there, can't Yehoshua tell that? The fact that Torah finds it necessary to tell Yehoshua twice -- once by Moshe and once by YHVH -- tells us that even though he would never be alone, be would, in fact, feel as if he were. And as a leader, he needed to know that this was not the case (so diminish the fear and/or anger and return to the Presence) and he needed to be mindful of the public nature of his life from that moment on.
He may not have had CNN or the new York Times to contend with, but the tents had eyes and ears. In fact, there may be more privacy for a leader in today's world than there was for one back then.
We can only try to imagine the times that Yehoshua would say to himself that YHVH had surely left them or him -- times that he could not feel any Presence at all. There would have to be times that the people would come to him and say, "How could the One have allowed this to happen to us, we must be forsaken, abandoned." And even if Yehoshua felt that the people were right, he would have to be strong, push through the anger and the fear, reconnect with the Connectivity and be the leader that the people needed.
And we know that he was a great leader. Why would such a great leader need to be reminded twice and so strongly? Perhaps things have not changed all that much in all these years -- there are still times that test our connectedness with the Divine. The Presence is still there, as always. We are the ones who need to still the anger and quiet the fear enough to see and hear. We are all loved with an unending love.
4. Grounding Sophistication
This week's Parsha is about Grounding Sophistication. The grounding is in the continuous Presence of the One, which we call the Kingdom. This Presence if there for us whenever we call upon it -- we are not forsaken or abandoned. We are not to despair. Release the fear and the anger for they are, in fact, the opposite of the Grounding we can get in connecting with this Parsha. The Sophistication is the Glory of the Kingdom (Hod).
Certainly if we are strong and of courage and remember that the Divine is there, even if we think we do not feel Her, then we can begin to acknowledge the Glory that is in the Presence. Hod is about uplifting ourselves and allowing the Presence to be seen and felt in us, even as we go through the mundane everyday things.
1. Anger and Fear: Can you recognize something that makes you afraid. Can you offer that fear up as a sacrifice? What about anger? What makes you angry? Who really controls things, anyway? Can you offer up some of that anger? Imagine fear and anger being placed on an altar side by side as the fire comes to the altar. Watch as they are consumed in the fire and become sweet smoke of an offering.
2. Khazak v'Ematz (Strength and courage): Can you demonstrate strength and courage? What happens to people around you when you project these qualities? What happens when a leader fails to exhibit these qualities? What does it take to exhibit strength and courage when you are afraid? How about when you are angry? Does it take different strength and courage when you are angry versus when you are afraid?
3. Anokhi Ehyeh 'imakh (I will be with you): What happens when the Divine is with us? What does the Presence feel like? How do we know that YHVH is with us? How do we join and connect with the One?
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