דיברי הרדמ''ל Teachings, Thoughts and musings of Rabbi David M Levin, The Radmal
Monthly Archives: July 2015
This is Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort. It is hard to take comfort now. It is not the external threats but the threats from within that are the most dangerous, the most discomforting. This has been a week of pain where Jews perpetrated horrible unconscionable acts of violence. We are all hostages of this perversion of Judaism. This Shabbat Nachamu let us struggle with the reasons why such atrocities can exist and what we can do to change this.
As I wish everyone Shabbat Shalom I also wish refuah shlemah to the survivors and deepest condolences to the families of the slain.
Moses continues his review of the journey through the wilderness in this week’s Torah portion, V’etchanan. He recalls the trials and tribulations and what it means to be in relationship to God. Moses tells the people that he will remain behind; Moses will die here in the desert and they will move forward to the Promised Land. Moses reviews the Law and we encounter a core Jewish teaching, the Shema followed by the V’ahavta.
We all know the words to the V’ahavta. It has been committed to our memory due to the recitation more times than we are able to count. In it we learn that loving God requires the active practice of the laws we have been given and that active practice requires that we teach these laws to the next generation, our children. We hear Moses recite this prayer to the people, but how might it sound if Moses internalized the V’ahavta as he accepts his fate preparing B’nei Israel to leave him?
If Moses was speaking personally, the language of the V’ahavta prayer might change. He might wonder if his children, the fledgling nation of Israel, have learned the lessons he spent his life living and teaching. In that, Moses resembles us, or rather, we who are parents resemble him. We invest our lives nurturing and teaching our children, hoping we instill good values so they may find a meaningful life based on a solid foundation. Are they ready to “fly on their own from the nest” is a question we all ask. We look back on our lives as parents and wonder; “Did I do it well enough? Were these lessons embraced?” I imagine Moses’ personal V’ahavta entreaty, and ours as well, might go something like this:
“I pray I have taught you well.
I hope the lessons and values I shared you have embraced,
And you will carry them and me in your heart
Down whatever path you choose for your life.
May these principles guide you
In the choices you make and the actions you take
From the moment you wake in the morning
Until it is time to rest at night.
Wear them proudly in your deeds and in your thoughts
So that everyone you meet will know
They have entered the presence of someone who tries to live life
Virtuously and with integrity.”
This Shabbat I urge us to commit ourselves to civility and decorum. The debate on Iran is extremely important to us, as Americans and as Jews, and discussion should be be robust. But we are standing at a crossroads. This conversation can quickly deteriorate. We cannot allow ourselves to be ripped apart by internecine hatreds. We remain Klal Yisrael only when we choose to be so. Let us argue ideas passionately, but let us not argue against each other. Even when we come from a place of strong conviction about the Iran deal, there remains room for multiple ideas without the need to vilify those who hold other views.
There is too much at stake here, Shalom for the world and Shalom Bayit, peace within the House of Israel.
Devarim is the great repetition that isn’t. Moses’ speeches in Devarim are a wonderful retelling of a story, but so much of it is not true; at least much of is does not comport with the stories of the previous books of Torah. So what is going on with Moses?
Viewing Moses as a person and not the mythic Prophet, Teacher and leader, Moses is doing what so many of us do. He is trying to understand his place in history, trying to figure out whether his teachings and leadership from slavery to peoplehood was really worth it. In simple language, Moses asks himself what we ask ourselves in the sunset of our lives: “Did I do good, did I make a difference?” Even the great Moshe Rabbeinu seems to question if he did the right thing and if ultimately he will make a difference in the world. For us, the answer is an unequivocal yes, but for him in that place, he was unsure.
Moses’ stories are retold with a tweak here and an embellishment there. In these Deuteronomy versions, Moses recalls himself prominently and his actions are above reproach. Here at this place in his life, Moses knows he is at the end of his journey and what he has done is all that he can do. There is a sense of authority in his voice, as he needs to reassure the people who will continue forward without his leadership, and there is a sense of desperation as well as he needs to reassure himself. It is here that we can relate to Moses the man, as we sometimes find our loved ones doing as he did.
For those of us with older parents or grandparents we too see similar behavior in their retelling of their exploits during the journey of their lives. And the subtext of their stories echoes the issues and fears of Moses. We are our most compassionate when we lovingly hold them and respect their stories as recounted. It is our way of saying to them yes my dear one, you do matter, you did make a difference to me. I will love you and remember you for these and all the other gifts you have shared.
For us of the “older” generation, the end of the book of Numbers (Parashat Matot-Masei) should resonate deeply. Here we have the recitation of the forty-two encampments during our time in the wilderness, a lifetime of experiences recounted as this chapter in our lives comes to a close. We look back at the long strange trip it has been.* Is the land that was promised indeed the Promised Land and has the crucible that was the Midbar, or desert, prepared us and made us deserving. We wonder how this will play out as we move into the next chapter, which is the book of Deuteronomy. Have our experiences prepared us for the next phase of our lives? Have the experiences been worthwhile? Have we really learned anything along the way and how might we share it with our children? We can only hope that this journey leads someplace.
But we know that this someplace is more than something physical. There is a spiritual and mystical component as well. For as we stand at the threshold of something new, we recognize that this “someplace” is the legacy that we are to leave to the next generation. Where we are becomes the foundation for our children. In the beginning of the book of Deuteronomy we will find the V’ahavta. The V’ahavta prayer remains at the heart of Judaism. It tells us that our encounter with God and the principles we have learned along the way are central to our existence as children of the Divine. And we are instructed to teach these principles to our children. Each of us hopes that we leave something of value- that our journey was worthwhile and our legacy will survive after we are gone.
* Thanks and apologies to both the Beatles and the Grateful Dead.
This morning the President announced we reached a deal with Iran. It is complex. It is less than what we wanted, and it is more than what it could be. Pardon my cryptic ambivalence, but it is both more and less at the same time. Negotiating, particularly with an adversary, requires both sides compromise to reach a deal.
I necessarily place my trust in my President and his Secretary of State to negotiate what is in the best interests of the United States and hope that these interests align with those of the State of Israel. Congress must now take a deep dive into the details necessary to properly understand the terms of this deal and then act accordingly. And we too need to take the time to learn the details before concluding whether the deal is good or bad and then we prepare for the ramifications of this deal. But for the time being, the fact we have arrived at a negotiated settlement is in itself important. For it is extraordinarily difficult to talk to an enemy in a peaceful process and reach a conclusion.
Dealing with a country that regularly promotes demonstrations where the chant “Death to America, Death to Israel” is a mainstay, we know that we are not dealing with a friendly nation. Reigning Iran in was the goal. This is far less than complete permanent dismantling of their nuclear programs, but far more than nothing. Might we create rapprochement and Iran become a friend? That is a very long way off. But we have bought time where such entente can be cultivated.
A nuclear Iran as an avowed enemy is a terrifying prospect. The road ahead continues to be difficult and dangerous. I hope that this agreement scales back the hatred and today’s historic settlement is a step toward a world that is just a little bit safer than it was before.