A Happy Yom Kippur & Joyful Sukkot

Yom Kippur in Haifa of my childhood: some of us in white rushing, all too seriously, to attend “services” in one of the many shuls around, to contemplate, to find meaning, to read ancient prayers which are almost impossible to understand…. But what is really taking place in my neighborhood of old is a huge impromptu street party – no musical instruments or stages, not that far, but a “happening”: kids of different ages, most in white shirts, on bicycles, tricycles, skateboards and roller-blades enjoying the fact that the streets are empty and mostly “car-less”, zip-zapping around freely back and forth; young parents escort their toddler on what seems to be a brand-new bike, still with shiny streamers and clean, spotless training wheels, “especially for Yom Kippur”; mom’s a bit concerned; dad’s encouraging from the back, balancing the mobile gently. When this kid grows up, he can tell his children what Yom Kippur meant for him…

I am mostly in silent awe. I want to walk on and on, all night, as if to touch this wonder. The same scene repeats itself in various intersections, and it is captivating. My “religious” side (totally in “-“) thinks about all the “transgressions”, the list we just read at shul. And at the same time,  I can’t help realize: People are celebrating Yom Kippur with in intense joy. Is there joy to Yom Kippur?? For those of us in shul, beating on our chests with the famous ashamnu, bagadnu… lengthy confession, the question itself seems preposterous: Yom Kippur?? Joy?? No food, no washing, no pleasures… what joy?? And yet, I would argue that Yom Kippur is absolute joy! The idea that G-d almighty, the One who created the world, who has been before everything and will eb here after, that great, awesome One, beyond words, even put anywhere in His grand agenda to forgive little, unknown me; even has me in mind, on this day… on any day… wow! I am not flawless and yet, G-d is ok with it, and let’s me be, rethink who I am, reconsider my path, regret, make amends, make new plans… there are many moments when we debate whether we believe in G-d; turns out, that while we’re busy with that, G-d is trying to let us know, He Believes in us…. In Hebrew, the word for osher, אושר shares its root with ishur,  אישור permission and le’asher, to approve, לאשר, perhaps indicating that feeling we have permission – approval to be who we are is happiness.

Which leads me to think that maybe what we see in the streets of modern Israel is not an objection for the day and its meaning, but a deep, pained cry for balance: not only remorse, guilt and regret blended with sorrowful, heart aching melodies, but joy and happiness, friendship and togetherness.

Walking home from Ne’ila, my footsteps are accompanied by rhythmic banging sounds. Breathing lighter, hammer in hand, people begin to welcome the holiday when we’re commanded to be joyful, as if G-d says, ‘you know what, maybe we didn’t finish discussing everything on this one “dreadful and awe-ful” day; it is a bit much, I know; so why don’t you join me in my summer hut next week for a chill time together? There will be delicious food, beautiful decorations and special guests for us to enjoy together? I hope you will come!’

Will you?

Shabbat Shalom & Chag Sukkot Same’ach

 

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Moses and His Fitbit (2) – the Torah Portion of Vayelech

I love Moshe in the Torah portion of Vayeylech. I loved him last year and love him just the same if not more this year. I think of him daily. At 120 years old, he walks. And not for his own musing, but in order to speak to the People “all these things” (Deuteronomy 31:1). Couldn’t they come to him? Didn’t anyone think, ‘oh, Moshe is getting old, our journey is nearing its end, we should try to hear as much Torah from him as possible, let’s all go to see him and sit at his feet”… Instead, the humblest person we know of, gets up and goes, so that we too will learn to walk; to go talk; to ask, to teach, to bid farewell when the time comes; to not sit around and wait for things to happen, but to get up and make them happen, at least start.
At 120, he also writes the Torah, coincidentally or not, with the same Torah portion he “walks”, possibly to hint at a connection between the constant movement needed – not a speedy run but not a standstill either – but a walk, when it comes to Jewish Law, halacha from the same root as Vayelech.

In the Haifa of my childhood I too, walk. I reacquaint myself with the streets I took my first steps. Some places are still there: the lottery tickets booth hasn’t budged; others have been altered, demolished, rebuilt, added. The little chocolate store turned into a candy boutique. Trees have grown bigger; some have been removed to widen the main street; houses making new neighborhoods popped up where we used to drag broken pieces of wood for campfires and scouts tents; and new tenants have arrived in the form of herds of wild boars in the woods around. I come across old familiar corners and new sites. All essentials are in place, a shul nearby (two) and groceries and post office and even Israeli dancing. But sometimes, suddenly, I see myself sitting in my school uniform on a bench, waiting for a bus with my friends, still chatting and laughing; then I notice she’s someone else…

But mostly I walk – with Moses – looking to learn the Jewish – Israeli – continuum where I can join, find and / or invent what’s next. Like a hidden map, Haifa is not Jerusalem and not Tel Aviv and needs to be discovered as well as invented. The Carmel is a bit sleepy, always was. We have great views, and a gorgeous coastline, good coffee and we love to work; yes, there’s always work in this industrious “red” city; ‘we are a diligent people, sprayed by Yekke (German Jews)-powder of those who came here in the 1930’s and 40’s; we don’t have time for… you wanted to talk to about… what? Learning?? Talmud? Peoplehood? Are you trying to make me religious?? Sorry, can this wait? I’m finally off work and heading to the beach’…

I hold on to Moses and we keep walking; I’m small in his shadow; I’m not worried; we have Torah to share.

Shabbat Shalom & still, Shana Tova & Gmar Chatima Tova.

 

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Teshuva as a Love Story: the Torah portion of Nitzavim & Rosh Hashana

Walking in Haifa of my childhood, less than a mile from where I grew up, sometimes I meet myself coming and going. Yesterday she was sitting at a bus stop, chatting with friends in her school’s uniform, ponytail bouncing as she laughs with them… On the eve of Rosh Hashana 5780 – 2019, Israel’s population nearly tripled from those days when I actually walked the streets and sat on the benches here – or more likely, a low stonewall near my house. I am so glad to finally, be one of these 9 million living here, whoever and however they are counted, and perhaps at no other season is this so poignant than the season of teshuva.

Teshuva has many translations. Simply, it means “answer”, but during these days, it also means “repentance” or “return”. Some say, it comes from “lashevet”, to sit, to feel settled. Do I? What is the meaning of any of this?

In the Torah portion we most often read before Rosh Hashana, that of Nitzavim, we find the instructions for teshuva (Deuteronomy 20:2-10):

וְשַׁבְתָּ֞ עַד־יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ וְשָׁמַעְתָּ֣ בְקֹל֔וֹ כְּכֹ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם אַתָּ֣ה וּבָנֶ֔יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֖ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃

and you return to the LORD your God, and you and your children heed His command with all your heart and soul, just as I enjoin upon you this day,

וְשָׁ֨ב יְהוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ אֶת־שְׁבוּתְךָ֖ וְרִחֲמֶ֑ךָ וְשָׁ֗ב וְקִבֶּצְךָ֙ מִכָּל־הָ֣עַמִּ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֧ר הֱפִֽיצְךָ֛ יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ שָֽׁמָּה׃

then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and take you back in love. He will bring you together again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you.

אִם־יִהְיֶ֥ה נִֽדַּחֲךָ֖ בִּקְצֵ֣ה הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם מִשָּׁ֗ם יְקַבֶּצְךָ֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ וּמִשָּׁ֖ם יִקָּחֶֽךָ׃

Even if your outcasts are at the ends of the world, from there the LORD your God will gather you, from there He will fetch you…..

וְאַתָּ֣ה תָשׁ֔וּב וְשָׁמַעְתָּ֖ בְּק֣וֹל יְהוָ֑ה וְעָשִׂ֙יתָ֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֺתָ֔יו אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּֽוֹם׃

You, however, will again heed the LORD and obey all His commandments that I enjoin upon you this day.

וְהוֹתִֽירְךָ֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ בְּכֹ֣ל ׀ מַעֲשֵׂ֣ה יָדֶ֗ךָ בִּפְרִ֨י בִטְנְךָ֜ וּבִפְרִ֧י בְהֶמְתְּךָ֛ וּבִפְרִ֥י אַדְמָתְךָ֖ לְטוֹבָ֑ה כִּ֣י ׀ יָשׁ֣וּב יְהוָ֗ה לָשׂ֤וּשׂ עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ לְט֔וֹב כַּאֲשֶׁר־שָׂ֖שׂ עַל־אֲבֹתֶֽיךָ׃

And the LORD your God will grant you abounding prosperity in all your undertakings, in the issue of your womb, the offspring of your cattle, and the produce of your soil. For the LORD will again delight in your well-being, as He did in that of your fathers,

כִּ֣י תִשְׁמַ֗ע בְּקוֹל֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ לִשְׁמֹ֤ר מִצְוֺתָיו֙ וְחֻקֹּתָ֔יו הַכְּתוּבָ֕ה בְּסֵ֥פֶר הַתּוֹרָ֖ה הַזֶּ֑ה כִּ֤י תָשׁוּב֙ אֶל־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֖ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃

since you will be heeding the LORD your God and keeping His commandments and laws that are recorded in this book of the Teaching—once you return to the LORD your God with all your heart and soul.

The process here is described to have three stages: that of returning to the Land of Israel, because it’s connected to the the in-gathering of the People; the second is returning to the actions that connect and bind us to G-d (those we call “commandments”); and then, that of just “simply” returning to G-d.

The whole idea is bizarre: the fact that this has to do with “return” means I’ve been there once…. Have I? Alternatively, if we are made in G-d’s image, then isn’t G-d already within us? Where shall we go back to? What if we’ve never been “there”??

In Israel the term “chazara bitshuva” loosely translated as “returning on the return / finding an Answer”, has taken on a new face: that of becoming religious after growing up secular, a term which is fraught with emotions and challenges. I remember a friend who grew up with “nothing”, married a religious man and became “religious” herself. She told me how when people ask her if she’s a “chozeret bitshuva”, she says, “no, I have a love story”. This is what I think Rav Kook would say too: teshuva is not only about a place or an action; it’s not about a list of to do’s and ‘ I once didn’t light Shabbat candles and now I do’. Action is important because it conveys who we are, but it’s not everything. Therefore, teshuva rather, is about a soul reaching for and flowing towards – and with – its source; about a deep desire for Oneness and Flow; indeed, about reconnecting with the love story between us and G-d, and centering that in our life.

Shabbat Shalom & Shana Tova Umetuka.

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Turning the past into a future: The Torah portion of Ki Tavo

One month in Israel, not even close to scraping the surface of this old-new seashell. There are moments that I’m not sure what I was thinking, and there are moment that I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to be back, not for any particular reason, just because the air feels right, the beach is glorious, especially at sunset when the water is still warmish and the sun softer and you can walk forever, and the cottage-cheese tastes like my childhood.

These Torah portions speak of going and coming, Ki Tetze and Ki Tavo: if you go out – for war… when you come – into the Land… perhaps implying that going out is always a struggle, even in best case scenario, while coming in is a return home.

This week’s parasha opens with the word Vehaya: haya means – was; the vav before, is known as vav hahipuch: it causes verb after to change times, turning it from “it was” into “and it will come to be when”…. This happens elsewhere, for example, shamru means they kept, in the past. When this vav is added, it turns into veshamru, and (they) will keep (the Children of Israel the Shabbat for their generations…). What a concept! That we can play with time! It is possible for us, says the Hebrew grammar, to turn the past into a future.

By contrast, the word yehi means – will be (so will be your will – וכן יהי רצון); vayehi though means “and it came to pass” in the past. Therefore, the sages understood the latter to be a sign of doom – a promise for a brighter future that holds a danger, reversal of hope (see Genesis 41:1: Vayehi miketz… Pharaoh wakes up from a dream after two extra years of Joseph in jail, which starts Joseph’s ascend but ultimately lands the Children of Israel in slavery in Egypt). But here, the word vahaya is a sign of blessing ahead. The ability to turn the past into a future is a sign a joy. This is how the description of coming to the Land of Israel opens. We have an opportunity to reverse the past. This was true in Torah times, and it is even more true, noticeable and easy to grasp – nowadays.

So ok. If the goal is to come to the Land and that’s the future and blessings, then great, let’s make the most of it. Life is not easy, you know; if we can get anything out of this rocky ground, let’s enjoy it. But then, the very first thing one must do is bring the first fruit to the Temple. Ouch! Finally, there is a little fig on my tree, and now I have to give it away?? how could that make sense? If we think we are the absolute owners, then it doesn’t, but if we remember that we are caretaker and work with the Owner then maybe it’s possible.

The next strange thing is that the Torah insists on when we come to priest “today”, we should say, that we’ve come to the Land… but what if someone has been here for seven generations, or even one? This too has to do with a feeling of not taking for granted. Being here should not be a result of historical coincidence – I’m here, so I’m here – but, rather, accompanied by a sense of choice. There is a constant feelings of renewal, excitement, mission, place and role, things to do. I admit, this is not always obvious to me when I wait in line at the bank or some office, again. But then I open my shutters and take a deep breath as I gaze at the view.

Shabbat Shalom.

וְהָיָה֙ כִּֽי־תָב֣וֹא אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר֙ ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֖ נַחֲלָ֑ה וִֽירִשְׁתָּ֖הּ וְיָשַׁ֥בְתָּ בָּֽהּ׃

When you enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in it,

וְלָקַחְתָּ֞ מֵרֵאשִׁ֣ית ׀ כָּל־פְּרִ֣י הָאֲדָמָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר תָּבִ֧יא מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֛ אֲשֶׁ֨ר ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָ֖ךְ וְשַׂמְתָּ֣ בַטֶּ֑נֶא וְהָֽלַכְתָּ֙ אֶל־הַמָּק֔וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר יִבְחַר֙ ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ לְשַׁכֵּ֥ן שְׁמ֖וֹ שָֽׁם׃

you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God will choose to establish His name.

וּבָאתָ֙ אֶל־הַכֹּהֵ֔ן אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִהְיֶ֖ה בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֑ם וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֵלָ֗יו הִגַּ֤דְתִּי הַיּוֹם֙ לַה’ אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ כִּי־בָ֙אתִי֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר נִשְׁבַּ֧ע ה’ לַאֲבֹתֵ֖ינוּ לָ֥תֶת לָֽנוּ׃

You shall go to the priest in charge at that time and say to him, “I acknowledge this day before the LORD your God that I have entered the land that the LORD swore to our fathers to assign us.”

וְלָקַ֧ח הַכֹּהֵ֛ן הַטֶּ֖נֶא מִיָּדֶ֑ךָ וְהִ֨נִּיח֔וֹ לִפְנֵ֕י מִזְבַּ֖ח ה’ אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃

The priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down in front of the altar of the LORD your God.

וְעָנִ֨יתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ֜ לִפְנֵ֣י ׀ ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ אֲרַמִּי֙ אֹבֵ֣ד אָבִ֔י וַיֵּ֣רֶד מִצְרַ֔יְמָה וַיָּ֥גָר שָׁ֖ם בִּמְתֵ֣י מְעָ֑ט וַֽיְהִי־שָׁ֕ם לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל עָצ֥וּם וָרָֽב׃

You shall then recite as follows before the LORD your God: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation.

וַיָּרֵ֧עוּ אֹתָ֛נוּ הַמִּצְרִ֖ים וַיְעַנּ֑וּנוּ וַיִּתְּנ֥וּ עָלֵ֖ינוּ עֲבֹדָ֥ה קָשָֽׁה׃

The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us.

וַנִּצְעַ֕ק אֶל־ה’ אֱלֹהֵ֣י אֲבֹתֵ֑ינוּ וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ע ה’ אֶת־קֹלֵ֔נוּ וַיַּ֧רְא אֶת־עָנְיֵ֛נוּ וְאֶת־עֲמָלֵ֖נוּ וְאֶת־לַחֲצֵֽנוּ׃

We cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression.

וַיּוֹצִאֵ֤נוּ ה’ מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם בְּיָ֤ד חֲזָקָה֙ וּבִזְרֹ֣עַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבְמֹרָ֖א גָּדֹ֑ל וּבְאֹת֖וֹת וּבְמֹפְתִֽים׃

The LORD freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents.

וַיְבִאֵ֖נוּ אֶל־הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וַיִּתֶּן־לָ֙נוּ֙ אֶת־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּ֔את אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָֽשׁ׃

He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

וְעַתָּ֗ה הִנֵּ֤ה הֵבֵ֙אתִי֙ אֶת־רֵאשִׁית֙ פְּרִ֣י הָאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־נָתַ֥תָּה לִּ֖י ה’ וְהִנַּחְתּ֗וֹ לִפְנֵי֙ ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ וְהִֽשְׁתַּחֲוִ֔יתָ לִפְנֵ֖י ה’ אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃

Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O LORD, have given me.” You shall leave it before the LORD your God and bow low before the LORD your God.

וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֣ בְכָל־הַטּ֗וֹב אֲשֶׁ֧ר נָֽתַן־לְךָ֛ ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ וּלְבֵיתֶ֑ךָ אַתָּה֙ וְהַלֵּוִ֔י וְהַגֵּ֖ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּקִרְבֶּֽךָ׃ (ס)

And you shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that the LORD your God has bestowed upon you and your household.

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While out walking… and the Torah portion of Shoftim

Evening walk on this Haifa street: red-roof, multi-family homes on left, woodsy forest of pines and oaks on the right, and a movement in the ticket. A person? Too wide. A cat or dog? Too big. But there is movement. And eyes. And a furry back. What can it be? A wild boar meandering along, casually looking for food, totally oblivious to the passersby, then heading back and disappearing among the trees. What to do when we run into strange and unusual things?? The Torah portion of Shoftim introduces us to one such case.

Here is the short:

If you chance upon a dead body in the field and you don’t know what happened and who killed the person, the elders and judges of the area, should measure from that body to the nearest city, so the elders of that city can atone for the dead with a certain “ritual”. The ritual includes taking a heifer and breaking its neck in the gushing river nearby, washing hands in the blood and water, and thus “doing right in the eyes of G-d”. It’s hard to read this and not just go, what???
Luckily, the great commentators and sages throughout the centuries have been likewise baffled by this and left us their thoughts. Abravanel (1437-1508) asked the same question, wondering how can the blood of a beheaded heifer atone for the iniquity and blood of the slain man? And furthermore: if ‘no one knew’ and ‘no one did it’, why is anyone required to do anything at all???
Let’s try and picture the scene:

I’m talking my evening walk, and instead of spotting the wild boar in Haifa, I, g-d forbid, chance upon a body in the middle of nowhere. What would / could / should I do? Probably first, scream; or maybe, be horrified and speechless; maybe look right and left for help, but we’re nowhere and there is no one… I can hear my mind going, ‘the guy is dead, there’s nothing to help him with, and you can get in trouble! Will I slowly back up and pretend I didn’t see it, and this didn’t happen?? If I try to get help, what if I get blamed? What if they don’t believe me?? And it’s so far from anywhere, and I have things to do!! Let someone else find him and deal with it!!
I know it’s tempting to think we would just “naturally” “know” to do the “right thing”, but most often, there is a reason why we were given laws. It’s that we davka don’t automatically do the “right thing”. It takes work.
So, suppose I collected my breath, made it to the nearby city, and told someone about the whole thing. And suppose they even believe me, they can still say, hey, thank you so much, but that’s really the next city’s jurisdiction…. But according to the Torah, they now have to assemble “my elders and my judges” – not just anyone but sages who have gained the community’s trust – who need to go out and measure. We don’t have google earth and can’t do this from home. We have to walk the distances to the nearby cities. What a strange procession we must be! Surely, we attract others’ attention. This now means, more people are involved from all the towns around. In pre e-days, this is our way of telling everyone of what happened: Hey listen, something serious; someone was killed nearby to us!!
People are starting to talk: Who is that someone? Do we recognize him? Do we know him? Is he from around here? Did he have enemies? Did anyone see him?? If yes, what’s going on among us?? If no, how come he was near our towns and we did not know? Did he need hospitality and we didn’t provide it? Food? Shelter? Someone to talk with?? No doubt, there is an investigation. We must uncover what happened, we must find the murder; we must because if not, we know what’s next.
We need a heifer. Do you have one?? Not anyone; we need a heifer “which has not been worked with and which hath not drawn in the yoke”. Do you have that one?? And if you do, if you do have that little, cute, young, heifer that “has not been worked with”, that you so need, because, after all, we live in a place where heifers are extremely valuable, are you sure you want to give it to us, to be beheaded for this ritual??
I think not. I think you- or me, if I had that heifer- would do everything possible to avoid this. This is perhaps expressed in the verse which the elders say at the end, “our hands have not shed this blood…”. Asks the Talmud, why do they need to even say this? Would we think that the elders have actually shed this man’s blood?? But rather, they publicly acknowledge that they have done all they can, not just for this one person, but that they were loving, kind, hospitable; they exemplified responsibility to their fellow town-people and travelers alike; and they taught others to do so as well. Can they say that? Have they (we) really done all they can?? Do we??
I’d like to think that the ordeal of “egla arufa” (Deuteronomy 21:1-9) happened very rarely if ever, because the conditions for it, are so numerous and complicated, but its lessons are what matters. The whole Torah portion is about creating order and justice in society from the gates and inward. And yet, there is not enough police force in the world to assure “nothing” will ever happen. The main thing goes back to us. Let’s not wait to worry about finding the “right” heifer and solving obscure murder cases. We should think about doing things well before, for the strangers among us and those dear and near; value and care for those around us so we avoid getting into a situation from which it’s hard to get out.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

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To Hear and To See – Ekev-Re’e

The tension between hearing, listening and seeing, looking are emphasized in the Book of Deuteronomy, especially in this week and last week’s reading. First, “our manta”: Shma! שמע Listen! Then, this week  – Re’e! ראה. Listening is considered more internal; see – more external. We might think the Torah should be only about the “internal”, so spiritual, it would reject the material, outside world, and are proven wrong. Both are critical, like a driver of a car – he can’t do anything without the car, and the car can’t go anywhere without him.

The Or HaChayim (18th century – Morocco – Israel) suggests that in order to know how many blessings are in store for us in the Hereafter, we have to have a deep appreciation and success in this world: “If the person preaching the values of the Hereafter were not himself blessed with success in this life, his listeners would not believe him thinking that he consoles himself with something in the future because he had been unable to attain it in the here and now”… While we know that others might say, that the way to know the world to come is by avoiding this world, this is not the Jewish path. Whatever Hashem gave us that we can legally, by Torah law, enjoy, we can and we should.

Both – Shma & Re’e – שמע – ראה – are said in the singular form of the verb, which means they are spoke to everybody as one. Re’e is followed with a plural: “See, I set before you today the blessing and the curse..” (Deuteronomy 11:26). The word for “before you” is לפניכם lifneichem in the plural, before all of you, or – before each and every one of you, maybe to indicate that everyone has a different path where we can find blessing as well as curse.

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The next verse opens with the word את הברכה “et habracha” (Deuteronomy 11:27). This את “et” is a seemingly useless, untranslatable Hebrew construct. The word appears before a specific direct object. Rabbi Yaakov Ben Asher, known as “Ba’al Haturim” (1269-, Germany – 1343, Spain) explains that because את “et” is made from א- ת alef & tav, the first and last letters of the alphabet, so will be the blessing, all inclusive. This parallels the description of the blessings in Leviticus 3:3-13, which begin with an Alef אם בחוקותי תלכו and end with a Tav – קוממיות.

On the other hand, the curse is introduced with the letters הא – וו – Vav & Heh – vehaklala (Deuteronomy 11:28). They parallel the curses in Leviticus (26:14-46) which (coincidentally 🙂 also begin with a וו – Vav and end with a הא – Heh. Vav & Heh are right next to each other, as if to let us know, Hashem would much rather shower us with goodness than subject us to bad; the “curse” is short and the goodness is so much greater, and goes on forever…

That this makes sense to now, well, ok, maybe sort of. But how did someone write this hundreds of years ago, in times of pogroms, exiles, and already more than 1000 years after the Temple was destroyed with no end in sight? How did anyone believe it hundreds of years later and miles away (as this is brought by Rabbi Hayim David Azulay (the Hida, Jerusalem, 1784-1804)? Maybe it’s not only about “choosing good” but more that, choosing to see good.

Shabbat Shalom & Chodesh Elul Tov from Haifa, Israel.

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For Tu Be’Av & Parashat Va’etchanan: A new Book, a famous verse and a holiday (or two)

The Hebrew name of each one of the five books of the Torah has to do with speech, but each one of the first four describes only partial speech. Then comes “Dvarim” – Deuteronomy – and opens by saying, “And these are The Things…” implying wholeness, closure. Moses, in the last month of his life, organizes the Torah for the People. If until now things might have showed up in an order only G-d can fully know and understand, here it is – some repeat, some “new”, some expanded – through a human’s farewell speech. Wait, human? Would that mean that this book is not “Divine”?? but if it’s not, how come it’s in the Torah? One way to understand this is to think of it as if Moshe started speaking and G-d said, that’s exactly what I was going to say!! Or maybe, vice-versa…

But, Moshe & Dvarim?? Moshe is the one who started out his mission saying – לא איש דברים אנכי – For I am not a man of dvarim, words (Exodus 4:10) and he ends his life with a whole book named Dvarim?! Initially when he could not speak, Hashem had Aaron, his older brother, speak for him, but now Aaron has already died. How did Moshe turn from someone who can’t speak to someone who, forty years later, can just say a whole book of Divine words? What happened over these years? The Sfat Emet (Yehuda Aryeh Leib Aletr, 1847-1905, Hasidic rabbi, named so after the title of his main work) says that this is proof that the Torah and particularly what our tradition calls being mit’asek baTorah (busy with the Torah) has healing powers, especially when it comes to the ability to use speech.

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Tish’a Be’Av in India: people sitting on the floor, praying, reading, learning history and the stories of the churban (destruction), singing moving, emotional songs in a language many don’t understand for a Temple, none of us has seen, which stood thousands of miles away and thousands of years ago. How is this even possible? Who knows how many important buildings have been destroyed, collapsed, burned, damaged, disappeared throughout the world, throughout these years, and yet. Here we are. And I can’t help wondering. It’s 2019 – 5779, and people all over the world, Jews and non-Jews and not-yet-Jews are praying for the rebuilding of the Temple in a far away land; wishing for the peace and well-being of Jerusalem, Israel and her people. If this did not sound so…. I would say, we live in amazing times.

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And then, there’s the transition from a day of tragedy, mourning and sadness to joy and gladness. This Friday is Tu Be’Av, often wrongly translated – or described – as Jewish Valentine Day, but here, Thursday, August 15, is India’s Independence Day. In preparations, the balcony is decorated with homemade flowers and streamers of orange, white and green. The women are dressed in fine, festive sarees, some in the flag’s colors but others in every pretty shade of blue, gold, purple, yellow and more. It seems like there is no end to colors and their careful combination here – houses in orange, yellow, purple, green, blue, maroon and on and on, giant wall paintings in the streets, the food, too, gets to be bright and orange, red, green, and of course, scarves must be carefully matched to tunic and pants. In honor of the day, the students prepare speeches and dances, as “should be” on such a day. Words (familiar words, I might add) of patriotism and love of this great country are expressed sincerely, and the flag is waved proudly. More and more dancing, and photo opportunities.

People (by that I mean, the women) take turns having their picture with me. The atmosphere is casual and friendly. Suddenly, one lady, begins to approach me in an official, slow marching walk. True, it is hard to make hasty steps in saree, but she is doing so deliberately, her hand tight to her forehead, saluting. She is a little older and heavy set which all stands in contrast to her movement, and from my other side, I can see the students unsure how to respond. As she comes near me, I notice her tears. In a chocked voice, she speaks about the bond between India and Israel in their joint history with the British, gaining independence within the same 12 months, and the current strong relationships between the two countries, sharing growth in agriculture, technology and more (though I am guessing she doesn’t know about the thousands of Israelis who make this country their place of pilgrimage, which deserves another conversation-). She then proceeds to bless the two countries with all good wishes. None of this is in English, and my ten and a half words in the local language don’t include any of those spoken. It seems that at times, the power of words comes through even without the words themselves being understood.

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Shma Yisra’el, says Moshe in this week’s reading. Such famous, repeated, sung, prayed and yet, almost impossible to understand words. In order to command someone to listen (or do anything for that matter), to the commander has to be on the outside of the commanded. When Moshe says, “hear oh Israel”, is he implying he is not included in that? That he is on the “outside”? And what about the repetition of Hashem’s name twice within six words? Would it not be sufficient to say – ‘Hear Israel, Hashem our G-d is One’??

Rashi says that this verse conveys a dynamic statement: Hashem, the one who is our G-d, who is known by us, is going to be the One g-d known by all’. If so, it denotes progression and indeed, much later (than Moshe), this idea repeats in the book of Ezekiel (38:23) when the prophet says in Hashem’s name: “I will be exalted and known to many nations”.

There is a midrash that the first time this verse was uttered is by Jacob’s children, on his death bed: Hear Israel, they said to their father, we’re all in this together. At that time therefore, it meant unity of the people. During Moshe’s times, the verse came to mean – Oneness of Torah and the People: me, says Moshe, who might seem to you on the “outside”, who speaks with Hashem, who prays and attends to the Mishkan, who brings down the Torah, and you, the People, are all inside that same Oneness, a message still relevant today, when we have not yet figured out how to have less division between Torah and People. But one day, says the prophet, the whole world will see the Oneness of Hashem. This might sound foreign, crazy and oppressive in so many places, but it’s all over the place here. This is an incredibly religious country. In every corner there is a shrine, “idol”, temple, wreath of flowers around a statue, painting of an ancient mythology scene (colorful, did I mention?), and if it’s not Hindu, it’s a mosque, church, ashram and on and on. One day, say our prayers, we will all know, we are part of the same Oneness.

Shabbat Shalom.

To support my work here through Kulanu: https://sna.etapestry.com/fundraiser/KulanuInc/gtf/individual.do?participationRef=868.0.783006821

the market place – cell phone and advanced technology (even in flower basket)

 

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