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Friday, July 19, 2013

Parshat Va'etchanan: Listen and Remember.......Hear and Embrace

This week's parashah/portion is Va'etchanan (Devarim/Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11). This portion contains within it some of the central ideas and texts of the Torah and of all of Judaism. The portion begins with Moses saying to the people: “And I pleaded [va'etchanan] with God at that time....” The time of which he is speaking is when he pleaded to God to be allowed to enter the Promised Land together with the people. God had forbidden Moses to enter the Land and Moses pleaded with God to be allowed to cross over the Jordan River with the people. But God did not grant Moses's plea. And so now Moses is speaking to the people as they prepare to be led across the Jordan by Joshua. And so, Moses begins to recount what happened during the 40 years of wandering. For those about to cross into the Land were either children or not yet born when the journey began some 40 years earlier. 

The words of the parashah reminds the people that the Eternal is the only God in heaven above and on earth below and that they must observe God's mitzvot/commandments. Moses then recounts the mythic events of Mt. Sinai and recites to the people the words of what we call the 10 Commandments, but which in the Torah itself are referred to only as the 10 “Words” or “Utterances.” However, d'var, which means word or utterance, can also be translated as “thing,” reminding us of the reality that words can often take on a life of their own.

Finally, towards the end of the parashah we find what has been called by some the central tenet or watchword of Judaism, the Shema and V'ahavta: “Hear, oh Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is One” and “You shall love the Eternal, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your being...” 

These words are to be taught to our children wherever they might be and are to be recited upon rising and when going to bed (as is still the custom today). And they are to be “bound as a sign upon your arms and as a symbol between your eyes; and they are to be written upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.” These customs also continue until the day when Jews wrap tefillin, leather straps with small boxes containing parchment with these words written upon them, on their arms and on their forehead and when Jews affix a mezuzah, a small container with similar parchment within them, on the doors of our homes.

Throughout the parashah, the themes of hearing/listening/ paying attention, to the Oneness of God, and the observance of the mitzvot/commandments are central. In addition to this, there is one other point which I believe may be at the heart of this week's parashah. For in when recounting the Ten “Commandments” Moses uses a different wording for the Fourth Commandment. When originally uttered in the book of Shemot/Exodus the commandment reads “You shall Remember (zakhor) the Sabbath day and keep it holy....”. In this parashah Moses states, “You shall Observe/Keep/Protect (shamor) and keep it holy...”. The rabbis of old stated that a miracle occurred at Sinai in that both the words shamor (observe) and zakhor (remember) were uttered simultaneously by God, in a manner that “the human mouth could not speak and the human ear could not hear.”

Furthermore, in Exodus we read that the Shabbat/Sabbath was meant to remind us that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. In Deuteronomy we read that Shabbat is to remind us that we were once slaves in Egypt and that God freed us with “a strong hand and an outstretched arm.”

All of these verses and teaching form the source material for the poem I would like to share with you at this time.

Listen and remember........hear and embrace

I stand on the hilltop
preaching to those who do not remember
what happened before
who do not know the meaning of it all
each step of the journey each word of the divine
a world    an experience    a life    of its own

I remind them of that which they never knew
how we were all forbidden to enter the land
though now I am the only forbidden one who remain
 I speak to them of how the Divine has guided us

has wrought miracles in speech and action
of how the Divine is One that which unites all
human     animal    time    space    eternity

I tell them of how I pleaded for compassion from
the One who is all compassion
       at first I believed that I received none
yet in the end what I received was pure compassion
      for in being forbidden to enter the holy land
I have been allowed to leave this world
to leave my people                   who were never really mine
    to leave behind the desire to control to chastise
to be seen as the one      upon whom they must depend
               though I was simply the messenger
I shall not enter the holy land
       but I shall dwell forever with the source of holiness
the One of all being           the source of all that is
listen oh stubborn   exasperating    exquisite  people
pay attention to   the words    the voice    the silence
        of the Divine
God is One         we are all united within God
we must all love God    by using our divine-human gifts
compassion      mercy     justice       righteousness
in order to make wherever we dwell a holy land

remember and observe Shabbat
                          the crowning jewel of creation
remember and guard God's creation
                 through the gifts of rest and renewal
remember and protect the freedom which God gave us
          by making us in God's image     and by bringing us forth
from the narrow places where we were enslaved
                        and where we enslaved ourselves
into the expanse of the universe where all can be free     
            where we celebrate the freedom of all God's creatures
by bringing God's precious gift to those still enslaved

do all of this in the name of the One
whose name our lips cannot utter nor mind comprehend       
      yet which heart and soul know deeply
for it is the name and essence of us all

this task is not too great for you to endeavor nor to achieve
for all you must do is simply     to love
love each human being    each animal    each plant
           each part of creation
for in loving and caring for creation
we give our love to the Creator who unites us

remember these words in your heart and in your soul
protect and guard them with all your might
teach them to all the generations to come all whose souls were present at Sinai     when the words were first uttered
share them with those whose minds may seem    
closed to the message
and yet buried deep within
their soul longs to hear and to embrace it

inscribe these words on your being in your soul
remember them wherever you dwell
and wherever you may wander
for they are the essence of what it means to be human
what it means to be part of the Divine
the One who creates   renews   redeems    every day
     the One who reveals to us the Divine essence each moment
by helping us to experience and to know
the truth        the meaning       the beauty      the wonder
of what it means     to be one
of what it truly means       to be truly alive

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