Shabbat Shalom! Eikev

Parashat Eikev might be termed “Parashat Deja Vu.” There is material here that may give us the feeling, “Haven’t I heard this before?”

We hear the story of the Golden Calf again, which we heard once before in Exodus. We hear the story of the making and breaking and remaking of the tablets. We also hear smaller, more recent repetitions: in Deuteronomy 9:1, we hear the formula “Shema, Israel” that we heard earlier at Deuteronomy 6:4.

Why is Moses repeating himself?

We could say, well, Moses was old. He was nearing his 120th year and he was exhausted. Maybe his mind was slipping a bit.

But more likely he had had time, over the forty years, to think about all these stories, and he understood them differently now than he had when they first occurred. Moses has learned and grown, and he is sharing those new insights with his people before his death, and before they enter the Land.

Also, Moses has a new audience: these are the children and grandchildren of the Israelites who left Egypt.

Some insights on the portion:

Thanks for the Memories by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Walking and Listening by Rabbi John Rosove

Walking on the Heels of God by Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Stuff Doesn’t Just Happen by Rabbi Don Levy

Jon Stewart and Moses on BS by Rabbi Seth Goldstein

Ekev: On Wealth

Remember the Eternal your God, for it is God who gives you power to get wealth, so that God may confirm the covenant sworn to your ancestors, as God is doing today.

–Deuteronomy 8:18

It seems to be human nature to give ourselves primary credit for wealth and prosperity.  When a person has worked hard and for many years to reach a place of security, it is only natural take credit for all that work. Parashat Ekev warns us never to forget that no matter how well we have done, humility still applies.

The word usually translated “wealth” In Deuteronomy 8:18 is “Chayil,” the same word we know from Eshet Chayil, the song written out in Proverbs 31, usually translated “A Woman of Valor.” Brown Driver Briggs, the major dictionary for Biblical Hebrew, offers a four part definition of chayil: “strength, efficiency, wealth, army.” If it is strength, it is strength is like that of an army, like that of the woman in Proverbs 31: interconnected, efficient, valorous.

The choice of words in this week’s Torah portion reminds us that whatever wealth we have is not simply our own doing, but the result of a complex mix of effort, energy, valor, persistence, and good fortune – all from God, and interconnected with other human beings, as well.

An entrepreneur works hard for success. Making a business go requires long hours and great risk. But it also requires other factors, interconnections to others. A physical location for business requires roads to reach it, water and sewage, power lines and other businesses to serve it. We may pay for those services, but unless we are on a desert island, we do not have to dig wells for water, build roads for service, pipe the sewage away, and build a power plant! We can call the police or the fire department; we do not have to invent them.

And face it, luck is also a factor. Smart people sometimes bring businesses into being, only to be hit with a stroke of bad luck: a drought, a recession, a change in tastes, an accident, and then instead of wealth, they have nothing but debt.

Opportunity is not equal anywhere in this life. Some people prosper either through their own effort or by inherited advantage. Others never get a chance.

Many people work hard all their lives and have little to show, even though they have done nothing wrong. Others through no fault of their own are disabled by physical or mental illness and are unable to work. We must hold any goods we have with humility.

Books to Prepare for the High Holy Days

Image: Man blowing a shofar. Photo by jonathunder via wikimedia. Some rights reserved.

Do you hear the sound of that distant horn?

The High Holy Days are on their way sooner than we realize. This year they begin with Rosh Hashanah at sundown on October 2, 2016. Yom Kippur will begin at sundown on October 11.

In other words, school begins in the Northern Hemisphere and then “bam!” it will be time to welcome 5777.

Are you reading anything to prepare for the season this year? Doing anything else to prepare?

Here are some books I’ve found useful for High Holy Days preparation. Don’t try to read them all! Spending quality time with one good book can be an excellent help.

The official start date for preparation is the first of Elul. This year (2016) that will fall on Friday, Sept 2 at sundown. I’m publishing this list now so that you can have a bit of lead time to visit your local Jewish bookshop!

Shabbat Shalom! – Va’etchanan

Parashat Va’etchanan always falls on the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av. It includes the passage Deuteronomy 4:25-40, which contains a prediction that the people of Israel would sin and be forced to leave the Land. That part of the portion is like the last hot breeze blowing from the coals of Tisha B’Av.

Fortunately this is also Shabbat Nachamu, the first of three sabbaths of consolation. The Haftarah for this week is Isaiah 40:1-26 which begins:

Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her
That her term of service is over,
That her iniquity is expiated;
For she has received at the hand of the LORD
Double for all her sins. – Isaiah 40:1-2

A midrash raises an interesting question about the grammar in the opening line. “Comfort” here is a command and it is plural.

Is God comforting Israel? If so, why is the command “Comfort” plural? And why is “comfort” repeated twice as a command? Or is Israel here commanded to comfort God, who was also traumatized by exile? Are we all supposed to comfort each other?

Who is commanded to comfort whom?

The word “comfort” gives us the name for this special Shabbat, “Nachamu.”

More thoughts on the Torah portion:

Ambassador-at-Large by Rabbi Amy Sheinerman

Shabbat Nachamu by Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Image by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat (Poem, with audio)

Praying the Sh’ma by Rabbi Ruth Adar

The Life You Save by Rabbi David Kasher

Doubling Down on Justice

This past August 5, the Movement for Black Lives published a 47,000 word platform that has hit a nerve in the American Jewish community. Most of the furor has focussed on a single hot-button word in the document: genocide. The rest of the attention has gone to a call for support of BDS, divestment from all things Israeli.

I have been quiet while I read and studied the document itself and read reactions from Jews whose opinions I respect. 

Today Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR in Los Angeles published an article in the Jewish Journal that says what I’d like to say, only much better than I could ever say it. So instead of blathering here I will post a link to it for you.

The Jewish Holiday of Love

Image: Israeli Folk Dancing. Photo via Israeli PikiWiki, some rights reserved.

Tu B’Av is a minor but fun Jewish holiday. After the mourning of Tisha B’Av, this is a lovely little day to be happy and to celebrate love.  Today in Israel, it’s called Chag HaAhavah, the Holiday of Love, and it’s a favored day for weddings. Think of it as Jewish Valentine’s Day.

  • Tu B’Av = Fifteenth of the Month of Av. In Hebrew, the letters that form the number 15 can also be pronounced “Tu.”
  • In Temple times, in Jerusalem, the grape harvest began on the fifteenth of Av and ended on the tenth of Tishrei, Yom Kippur. On both those days, single girls dressed in white and went to dance in the vineyards in the afternoon. It was a traditional time for courtship.
  • There are no big religious observances for the day. However, it’s a good day to get married, a good day to fall in love, and a great day to tell your loved ones “I love you.”

In 2016, Tu B’Av falls on August 18-19 (begins at sundown, runs until sundown.) For future years, check the online Hebrew calendar.

Anti-anxiety Shabbat – coping during these difficult days — Rabbi John Rosove’s Blog

Image: Sunset from my back porch. Photo by Rabbi Ruth Adar.

I love this post from Rabbi John Rosove. If you have been feeling anxious and are wondering how to cope, give it a read:

No one should be surprised that so many Americans feel anxious these days. Consider all that’s happened in the last 16 years, the cumulative effect of which has led to the state of our national psyche today: The contested 2000 Presidential election – the rise of Al Qaeda, international terrorism and 9/11 – the Afghan […]

via Anti-anxiety Shabbat – coping during these difficult days — Rabbi John Rosove’s Blog