Monthly Archives: August 2014

Finding Relevance in Eikev

Robin Williams’ untimely passing touched the hearts of many of us.  He touched our hearts because we had a personal connection.  His gifts of comedy and acting his brilliant artistry found a way into each of us.  And now we lament his passing on a personal level.

My father died about the time that Debbie Friedman passed away. Debbie was an iconic figure. Her passing created a tragic sense of personal loss in the Jewish community.  And as deeply as I cared for Debbie, I was more focused on the loss of my dad.  It was then that I noticed how we routinely find some losses to deeply affect us and others devolve from a human connection to a mere statistic.  

This approach to death is a coping mechanism;  If each death affected us deeply, we would be overwhelmed by the emotions and paralyzed.  The mind and heart do what they need to do in order for us to move on about our lives.  But beneath this, for those who are lost, what do they leave behind?  

This is the question I find myself asking about Moses in the Torah portion Eikev.  Moses is the iconic humble servant.  And yet, in this portion, Moses repeats several times that it was because of what he did that saved the people from oblivion.  Moses’ humility moves to the background as the need to be relevant takes over.  

Might Moses be scared?  He is the last of his generation, the generation that was to completely perish before the people would enter the Promised Land.  Might Moses be scared that he would fade into oblivion, and be a simple footnote to history?  The extraordinary experiences of creating a nation over the past 40 years might be obscured while the people are so focused on moving forward into the promise that the future holds.  

History and our entire tradition holds Moses up as the great leader and teacher.  We still recall Moshe Rabeinu with awe as we retell the stories of his life inextricably bound to the unfolding of our people’s destiny. But Moses did not know that at the time.  In this, his second discourse, Moses knows the end is drawing near.  In the remaining time left to him, Moses struggles to share the highlights of forging of a rag-tag group of slaves into B’nei Israel, about to enter and conquer the Land.  He can hope that his entire life’s work means something to those he has shepherded.  But it is only his hope that they will remember him, embraced his teachings and teach the generations to come; that they will become the people who God has offered as possible.  Yes Moses, we did hear and we did learn and we are still struggling to achieve the vision set before us.  

For our elders, this might explain the strident moments in your conversations with your children.  For our children, this might offer insight into the motivations of your parents.    Knowing this might help us to better understand the personal connection between parent and child.  We will feel the loss when our parents are gone.  But we can share and appreciate the wisdom of our elders now, while they are present in our lives.


Listen.  The word occurs over and over.  “Listen to me”, “Hear this,” I heard that”, “Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu, Adonai Echad.

The portion tells us to listen.  But how do we listen when we ourselves need to be heard?

Moses recounts the story of Meribah and shares his truth; he is punished on account of the people, Lmanchem— because of you.  That is not the story we read in Exodus.  But that is how Moses remembers, and that is how he shares.  That is Moses’ story. So how do we reconcile two different recountings of the same events?

This is the story currently underway in Israel.  Our narrative is of a proud miraculous nation forged from nothing against all odds.  Theirs is a very different story.  Both share many of the same facts.    How do we hear a truth that is so different from the one we know?  How can we hear the truth of another, if we are caught up in our own narrative and our own need to be heard?

If we are to someday reconcile and create an opportunity for two people to coexist, we must listen.  We must try to understand the retelling of the story in a different way while maintaining and building our story.

Once again the fragile truce has been shattered.  And it is all but impossible to step back enough to gain the perspective that is needed to move beyond this time of war.  But somewhere down the line, as we insist that “they” must listen to us, we too must somehow also listen to “them.”

Let us continue to work for a day when peace may come.

Shabbat Shalom

CCAR Mission to Israel

We are on the final day of our CCAR Israel mission of solidarity and learning. I have not written about most of my experiences and I have refrained from posting anything except for some re-posting of pictures to Facebook that my colleagues have taken, commemorating our time in various places. Although I want to share the extraordinary and incredible experiences, I also want to give them some time to sit inside me as I ruminate and try make sense of them. In some I will be successful and in some I will not.

These days have been filled with visits and talks and discussions and analyses. We packed as much as we could into our days and often into the nights as well. There is much pain here as we struggle to remember who we are while fighting to make a future possible. The actions we take now are the foundation upon which we build that future. Often building is difficult and now in this time of war it is acutely so. The price is paid in blood and also in our souls. If we are the caretakers of the world for our next generation, what is it that we will leave to them? The answer to that question is being forged now.

The singular most important thing I could do was be here to express my solidarity with the people and the State of Israel. So I came. The gratitude was palpable. And for that I am grateful as well. But now it is time to bring it back home and share what I have experienced. I hope to do justice to that sacred task.

There is a time for every thing under heaven. Now is the time to express support, reflect on what is happening and then engage in what is to be done, once the immediacy of this war is concluded. There is much to do tomorrow. But for today, I support my people and pray that all may live in peace.