Monday, July 22, 2013

Parashat Eikev - "Bringing You Into A Good Land"

This week we are reading Parashat Eikev.  Moses reminds the Israelites of all of the gifts that God has given them, that they will continue to be blessed and they will be able to enter the Promised Land, a few enemies defeated along the way…of course, with the help of God. Moses recalls the years of hardships that they had  endured, but despite it all, they survived. God watched over them, and will continue to do so, but they must promise to keep the commandments. 

Moses reminds them that they must always remember to give thanks for the land and the gifts that God gives them, and be grateful for the forgiveness that was given to them and to their ancestors.
We can’t forget that this group of Israelites that Moses was addressing did not have THE experience of Sinai. The experience is what their parents had told them. And Moses is aware of that:

“Take thought this day that it was not your children who neither experienced nor witnessed the lessons of the Lord your God” (11:2)

Moses wants the history from the Red Sea to the border of the Promised Land to be told and re-told to this new generation who will travel the long road to the Promised Land. He needs them to be motivated, and to understand that they are a part of the covenant that goes beyond those that left Egypt and reached Sinai.
How do we fit into that long chain of tradition today? We weren’t at Sinai, but our ancestors were. We no longer use stone tablets, but we are still a part of the story. We must continue to empower and inspire future generations to know the story, to tell and re-tell it, so that they understand that each one of us are here because they paved the way for us, as we must do for future generations.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Parashat Vaetchanan - How Will We Learn From Our Mistakes?

This week we read Parashat Vaetchanan, and the Israelites are ready to enter Canaan.  Moses speaks at length with his people, instructing them on his legacy.
Moses asks God to reconsider his decision. God has forbidden Moses’ entry into the Promised Land because of his prior acts of impatience and disobedience. Moses pleads with God, but God does not listen. The law is the law. The punishment will stand.
Moses can see the Promised Land from afar, but he shall never enter it. Moses has an opportunity to speak to the Children of Israel and offer them advice, and tell them to follow God’s laws faithfully. He tells them not to repeat his mistakes, so that they may live a full life, and thrive in the Promised Land.
How will we, as a society, learn from our mistakes?
Many of us heard the verdict of the George Zimmerman Trial this past weekend. We cannot change the verdict. But, there is more that we can do as a society so that future generations have a better chance of living a full life. President Obama said:
“And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin”. In addition to Gun Control, will Florida finally review the Stand Your Ground Laws, so lawlessness can be prevented, rather than encouraged?
Vaetchanan….I implore you. We must join together, so that the mistakes are NOT repeated.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Parashat Devarim - Moses Begins His Farewell


This week we begin the final book of the Torah…Devarim.
In Parashat Devarim, Moses begins his final sermon to the Israelite people. He is pouring out his heart to the people that he has been leading, and it is his final opportunity to speak to them. They will soon cross over into the Promised Land without him, and he has chosen a new leader to guide them.  This Parashat sounds different than the ones that we just left in Bemidbar.  None of that: “The Lord spoke to Moses and said:” There’s more patience here, more guidance, more listening. Moses’s sermon recounts those days when the Israelites left Egypt to freedom, and the conquests that they made against enemies throughout the years. These Israelites are the first generation that was raised by former slaves. Moses warned them not to abuse their power and how they treated those that were weak. "For you were strangers in the Land of Egypt." Since we ourselves were slaves, Moses was afraid that we might abuse our power.
In fact, Moses was very concerned that the Israelites would be consumed with the idea of power. To combat these influences Moses gives laws to the Israelites to limit their use of power.
Devarim is about listening, and recalling, and being socially conscious

It’s about remembering our past, so that we can move forward into our future.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Parashat Mattot-Oaths, Vows, and Never Remaining Silent

This week we approach the conclusion of the Book of Numbers, and we read Parashat Mattot. The portion talks about the subject of "vows" and "oaths" that we make. We know that words are powerful, and we should always think carefully before we use the gift of words. The focus is really about the vows that women make.

"If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips.  If a woman makes a vow to the Lord or assumes an obligation while still in her father's household by reason of her youth, and her father learns of her vow or her self-imposed obligation and offers no objection, all her vows shall stand and every self-imposed obligation shall stand. But if her father restrains her on the day he finds out, none of her vows or self-imposed obligations shall stand; and the Lord will forgive her, since her father restrained her." (Numbers 30:4-9)

Most of us today find this a bit shocking....all those feelings that stir within us about the nature of relationships and social status. But, it's true. When a man made a vow or took an oath, he was required to "carry out all that has crossed his lips". While women were allowed to make vows, these could actually be cancelled out by the male authority in her life if he renounced the vow when he heard it. So, providing that he does so quickly, and not keep silent, the women's father or husband can cancel out the vows made by a woman. There was no option to keep silent. Silence was giving it an OK.  Once you knew what the vow was, and you didn't speak up, you were now responsible for it. The motivation was to become accountable for what was going on around you.

So, if vows were so important, why could a woman's word be virtually wiped out by her husband or her father? That doesn't say much about the value of a woman's word in Biblical times. We HAVE come a long way. All people ARE created equal. (That means race, gender, class, religion sexual orientation, disability, what we look like, or where we come from) A person's gender shouldn't affect their ability to achieve great things. Equal Opportunity means Equal Opportunity.

We can never remain silent. Once we do, we are saying that everything is OK. If we disagree with something, we must speak up right away. It's our obligation to do so.