Month: July 2018

D’varim | Deuteronomy 1:1−3:22

Have you ever noticed how a story's details can morph slightly from telling to telling? It's a trick of our memory that these details change as we gain (or lose) perspective on a particular event. Often laden with emotion, we can layer over details with shades of judgment, interpretation and even change entire meanings of a particular scenario. This week we begin our fifth and final book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, which is a review of all that happened to the Israelites during their journey from Sinai to the Promised Land; as remembered by Moses.

In this week's parsha, D'varim, Moses begins to recount the story slightly differently than we read it in the book of Numbers. He is older, approaching the end of his life, and he knows that he cannot enter into the Promised Land with the Israelites. From this perspective, his recollection of past events is understandably laden with emotion, and not without a strong dose of judgment. We, moderns, have the luxury of being able to flip back in the Torah to the first hand accounts of these stories, to compare and contrast, but what must this retelling have felt like for Moses?

What does it mean for us that our tradition includes this second-hand reflection, full of interpretation and potentially mis-remembered details? It is to be read as part of a whole, for sure, and perhaps teaches us that the memories of our ancestors, emotionally laden as they may be, are as important for our understanding of who we are as the straight-forward first-hand narrative, which may lack that layer of emotional interpretation. Both are important for they tell us where we have come from, and potentially clue us in about where we are heading.

Rabbi Callie B. Schulman

Matot - Mas-ei | Numbers 30:2–36:13

Jewish tradition makes use of many different names for God dependent upon situation and desired outcome. Offering prayers or making reference to Adonai Tzva’ot (the God of Armies), for example, draws upon a far different set of historical experiences and images than would approaching Shekinah, God’s more feminine presence. While each name only reveals a singular facet and small portion of the Infinite’s identity, they speak volumes about the person making use of them.

One of my favorites, Fount of Living Waters — M’kor Mayim Chayim, is a poetic name for God used in this week’s Haftarah portion from the Prophet Jeremiah. (If you ever want to feel old, watch subtle attempts at Jeremiah / bullfrog humor fall flat before today's Bar and Bat Mitzvah students…) For the generation wandering in the desert, relating God to an oasis evokes emotions tied to the fragility and presence of life itself.  While it rains a considerable about more in the Pacific Northwest, Fount of Living Waters remains powerful. A place to turn for the sustaining of life and its highest virtues is indeed the draw of the God of Israel even for us.

- Rabbi Aaron Meyer

Pinchas | Numbers 25:10−30:1

One might imagine, given his long history of leadership and thin pretext for not entering the Promised Land, overwhelming malevolence between Moses and his successor. It would be natural for a lifelong leader to be reluctant to relinquish the mantle, to fight even harder to maintain power as imposed transition approached. A careful reading of this week’s Torah portion, however, paints for us a different picture. God commanded Moses to offer charge and lay hand (singular) upon Joshua, yet Moses went above and beyond, providing even greater conference of status by using two hands in blessing.

This distinction might seem like our Sages are making a mountain out of a molehill, but in reality they highlight an important point: we all have to do things that are disagreeable on their face, day in and day out. Moses’ choice is one we all face. How we choose to respond is entirely up to us. We will do so petulantly or by embracing the task? Will we do so half-heartedly or with gusto? May we learn from the greatest prophet who ever lived!

- Rabbi Aaron Meyer