“Because I said so”

Sooner or later these words exit our mouths- to the complaining toddler, the frustrated child, the incredulous teen. This phrase is actually code for  “ I have been where you are, but having lived many more years, been disappointed and hurt, a need to protect you emotionally and physically, overcome many challenges, grown in experience and perspective, and  because I have overwhelming love for you, I strongly advise against your doing the ___( fill in the blank).  However, no matter how often we try to explain our life experience, our perspective and long view, our having overcome challenges and our love, the weeping, exasperated, hormonal, hyper-ambitious person in our midst refuses to accept the possibility that we have actually once trod in their shoes or at least sandals similar to their own. 

     “It’s not fair” comes forth as a shout or whine and you and I have articulated these words perhaps much as we have heard them.  Having survived our own pain and desperately wanting to limit our child’s pain, even as we recognize that he or she needs to fall in order to learn how to stand, we still want to install bubble wrap on the world. The truth is we need to learn that our kids need to fall as much as they need to learn how to fall. Protection and growth are necessary for both parent and offspring.

     This week’s Parshah opens with the interesting Hebrew word Aykev which means ‘since’ or ‘because’ or ‘when-so-ever’ or ‘as a result’. Moses speaks to the People of Israel and says “Aykev listen to the mitzvot of God and fulfill the Torah…”  When-so-ever you fulfill the commands of God which include keeping your promises to each other and refusing to demean yourselves by worshiping hand-made idols and lifting yourselves up to be in charge of your own lives and setting your own schedules including keeping Shabbas…  Moses has seen the prior generation- a generation enslaved of body and perspective and Moses desperately wants to protect the Israelites from the mental and emotional pain which will result from lives emptied of spiritual substance; emptied by primitive pagan behavior and the inability to comprehend the enormity of a society governed by principles of justice, love, compassion, fairness and protection of the widow, orphan and stranger.

     Moses quotes God and teaches us that “when-so-ever” we adhere to spiritual law we will establish a Brit of Chesed, resulting in a transformed world and people elevated in mind and heart. It’s the long view and it is of greater value and more precious than rubies and it is more contemporary than ever before –because our world is forgetting the sacred principles of fostering a covenant built upon kindness and loyalty. So it is up to us –all of us – to remind the world of the essential nature of Brit and Chesed.

    Bring a Shabbat of shalom into the world this week.

May God bless you and your loved ones.

Rabbi Steve Silberman

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Torah Tidbits and Haftarah Highlights

By Rabbi Steven Silberman

(All page numbers refer to Etz Hayim)

Aug. 4 – Parshat Ekev - pp. 1042 - 1048

Moses, while reviewing his stint on Mt. Sinai, mentions he made the Ark. Is this accurate? Check out p. 599. Why do you think Moses makes this statement?

Haftarat Ekev - pp. 1056 – 1060

The goal of this Haftarah is to comfort the Israelites after the Temple's destruction. Isaiah opens with a question: "Could a woman forget her baby? Could God forget Israel?" Do you find this message comforting?

Aug. 11 - Parshat R'ay - pp. 1068 – 1076

Moses calls out to Israel and reminds the people that each individual is a child of God. How do you express your awareness that you are a child of God? Moses teaches the Israelites to eat proper (Kosher) Israelite food, to uplift the poor through tzedakah, and to care for their bodies.

Special Haftarah for Rosh Chodesh - pp. 1220 - 1223

God asks, "The earth is my footstool ...could you actually build me a house?" What is Isaiah trying to say? This is the concluding chapter of the Book of Isaiah, and the last verses speak of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. What would actually be of greater honor to God than a structure?

Aug. 18 - Parshat Shofetim - pp 1094 – 1099

A special law is set up for a person who accidentally kills someone. Would it be just to execute a person who commits manslaughter? Examine the Torah's approach (p. 1098).

Haftarat Shofetim - pp. 1108 – 1111

Isaiah continues to offer comforting messages to the People of Israel. His theme begins with God's words directed to all of Israel and the message ends with a description of a specific behavior. What do you notice about this behavior?

Aug. 25 - Parshat Ki Teitzei  - pp. 1123 – 1130

Why are Israelites allowed to charge interest of non-Israelites and forbidden from charging interest of their countrymen? How often have we Jews experienced allegations of greed and avarice? Study verses 20 and 21 on pp.1125 - 1126.

Haftarat  Ki Teitzei - pp. 1138 – 1139

This Haftarah's tone is joyous and confident. God is so confident that all will be well that a metaphor is used: It's so obvious it's like the waters during the flood of Noach. This Haftarah is also read on one other Shabbat in the year. Can you guess which one?

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Updated: Jul 28, 2018

Have you ever heard the Hebrew word ”l-heet-ra-ote”? It means be seeing you and is a gentle and encouraging way of saying farewell, especially offered when we don’t want to say goodbye. Hebrew verbs bearing the ‘eet’ prefix indicate a continuous action or a fully-immersive process. You are familiar with this prefix because you have heard it thousands of times; think of “Yeet-gadal, yeet-kadash, yeet -pa-ar and so forth from the Kaddish.

This week’s Parshah which begins with the word Va-etchanan bears this same grammatical form.( Ignore the missing ’e’). A little bit of puzzle-work is before us today.

Step 1 -Look at the word Chanan which gives rise to some well-known names; Hannah/ Anna/Amy and Chanan/Hannon and Yochanan which give birth to Johannes and John and Ivan/Evan. All of these names and their derivatives bear the same meaning of ‘Divine protective love’. Wow! How beautiful it is to name someone Divine protective love. You can now educate all the people you know with these names and inform them as to an aspect of their identities.

Step 2- It is time to learn bit of philosophy. The old English translation of Chanan/Chanah is Grace. Commonly spoken of in Christian life, Grace is not often mentioned in Shul. When I grew up as a child I knew Christians spoke of Grace and Jews didn’t. That is an error we need to correct. Jews do speak of Grace and the Siddur and Tanach are filled with its presence and significance. In fact the Hebrew word Chayn is most often connected to the very familiar word; Chesed. One of the most common phrases in Siddur and Bible is Chayn va-Chesed va-Rachamim which means Grace and Kindness and Compassion. To teach that God is close to us and protective kind and compassionate is very powerful and very significant!

Step 3- Let’s return to the Hebrew word ‘Et-chanan’ . Moses is speaking to the Israelites and summarizing the 40 year trek. He reminds them that he will die in the wilderness and will not accompany them into the Promised Land. He calls out to God and does Et-Chanan. What does Et-Chanan mean? We know the prefix means to be deeply involved in an ongoing process and Chan means Grace.

Put yourself in Moses’s sandals. You have been working for 40 years to help others and you asked for one big favor, one episode of forgiveness; only to learn your request was turned down. How would you reply? By throwing yourself upon the mercy of the court or saying it’s not fair or screaming? Or maybe you would call out from your deepest private place and seek the reassurance of an embrace of gentle protection to help you withstand the disappointment.

Perhaps the meaning of Et-chanan is to admit that when greatly disappointed we are vulnerable and we need reassurance from someone else; an extension of loving protection from God and gracious kindness from our fellow man.

May we all be granted the Grace to help each other withstand the disappointments we experience.

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