CCAR Newsletter Jul-Aug 2013 - 4

Voices of Torah
Matot/Mas’ei

D’varim (David Novak)

(Pamela Wax)

This is it: Moses’s last chance to wrestle with God
and human beings, the parties to the covenant
freely accepted at Mount Sinai. It is what we,
as rabbis, do to this day—we wrestle, as did
Moses, with our inheritance that is Torah. We are
teachers in the best tradition of Moses, whom we
call Moshe Rabbeinu, “our teacher.”

The Baal Shem Tov is reputed to have
said that “forgetting is the true exile.” We
are therefore enjoined to remember the
forty-two stages of our journey through
the desert, just as we recall the forty-two
towns that were given to the Levites.
God’s mystical name, derived from the
Ana B’Koach prayer, is said to have fortytwo letters and is used to assist us in
transitions.
Do you remember Marah? The Sea
of Reeds? R’fidim? Chatzerot? Some
of those places have clear memories
attached; some are now forgotten.
Midrash Tanhuma likens this travelogue
to a king whose son was ill. “He brought
him to a distant place for treatment. When
they returned, the father recounted: ‘Here
we slept; here we cooled ourselves;
here your head ached.’” We are nothing
if not a people of memory, honoring
people, places, and events. My personal
observance as I light candles each Friday
is to silently recall one highlight from each
day gone by in order to honor the week
now past: shamor v’zachor.
If we remove the first and the last years
of the journey when the Israelites were,
indeed, constantly on the march, Rashi
calculates that there were only twenty
stations during thirty-eight years. This
means that there were long periods of
normalcy at one oasis or another.
Some of us have had the luxury of a long
rabbinate in one location; others have
moved numerous times. How do you recall
and honor your personal journey? Since
we are taught that Moses recorded the
starting points of their various marches,
as directed by Adonai (Numbers 33:2), to
what extent do you believe that your own
travel itinerary was planned and directed
by God?
Perhaps you have already reached your
ultimate destination, your Promised Land;
if not, wishing you a n’siah tovah! Chazak
chazak v’nitchazeik.

D’varim tips its hand from its first words telling
us that Moses speaks directly to the people
on the other side of the Jordan. Like Moses
in D’varim, we use all of our human tools and
faculties to persuade, cajole, teach, argue, and
lovingly expose our people to Torah’s multifaceted

Va-et’chanan

Moses never gives up on the people—and neither
should we. As rabbis, this is our job: to make text
meaningful and relevant, to build bridges, and to
never give up on the holy pursuit of making our
traditions meaningful.

(Louis A. Rieser)

And I pleaded with God at that time, saying…
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, in K’dushat
Levi, notes that the word leimor (“saying”) is
superfluous because we already know that
Moses pleads. He explains that Moses needs to
make sure that God is, as it were, “in a receptive
mood for the prayer that would follow.” It is a
fascinating thought. Since prayer is a two-way
street, it requires that both the pray-er and God
be prepared for the exchange.
Truth is that it is hard enough to prepare oneself
to pray. Maimonides reminds us that “prayer
without devotion is no prayer at all” (Mishneh
Torah, T’filah 4:15). While we often place the
phrase “Know before whom you stand” (derived
from BT B’rachot 28b) above the ark, how often

Eikev

meanings. Like Moses, we deal with people
who come to us from many perspectives—who
believe what the text says, never looking beneath
the surface; who don’t affirm that they are part of
the covenant; who affirm the covenant but do not
know what it means. Like Moses, it becomes our
job to expose our fellow God-wrestlers with all of
the means we have as teachers.

do we focus on how to present ourselves in
prayer? When do we begin the transition from
dealing with the mundane to addressing the Holy:
as we begin to dress, as we enter the synagogue,
or as the first strains of Mah Tovu begin to calm
the chatter?
And what of God? It is beyond our power to
prepare the Holy One to receive prayer, but
there are things we can do to tip the scales. The
Talmud (BT B’rachot 7) reveals that God’s own
prayer is “My mercies overpower My anger.”
Similarly, Rabbi Akiva reminds us that the most
basic rule of Torah is “love your neighbor as
yourself.” If we can enter the synagogue with a
mix of chesed and rachamim, perhaps we can
succeed in attuning God to hear our prayers.

(Amy Scheinerman)

Hear O Israel! You are about to cross the Jordan
to go in and dispossess nations greater and
more populous than you: great cities with walls
sky-high; a people great and tall, the Anakites, of
whom you have knowledge; for you have heard
it said, “Who can stand up to the children of
Anak?” Know then this day that none other than
the Eternal your God is crossing at your head, a
devouring fire; it is [God] who will wipe them out
He will subdue them before you, that you may
quickly dispossess and destroy them, as the
Eternal promised you. (Deuteronomy 9:1-3)
When the Israelites have crossed the Reed Sea,
their crossing transformed them from slaves into
free people. Now they stand poised to cross the
Jordan River and become a sovereign nation in
4

their ancestral homeland.
Our lives are filled with crossings. We are dynamic
beings, continually changing. The motivation
to change may come from within, or change
might be foisted on us. Then there are the times
when change is needed, but we resist. To cross
our rivers, we need to dispossess the powerful
feelings that we are incapable, inadequate, and
uncomfortable: they are giant Anakites. We need
to focus on the divine spark within—the devouring
fire—which can subsume our weaknesses and
fears. Perhaps we can wipe them out, perhaps
we can only subdue them, but either is sufficient
to fulfill our promise. The trick to crossing is to
privilege the devouring fire over the Anakites.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter Jul-Aug 2013

CCAR Newsletter Jul-Aug 2013 - 1
CCAR Newsletter Jul-Aug 2013 - 2
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