Updated: Jul 28, 2018

May and June comprise the season of graduations. All across our fair land commencement exercises dot the landscape. Witnessing lengthy processions, we eagerly watch as our special someone takes her or his steps along with uncountable others. Four years (or more), are now concluded in the blink of an eye and as our posterity step forward we look to a new future brimming with excitement, potential and uncertainty. A daughter’s or grandson’s or nephew’s past career ends and a future begins with one short stroll across a dais.

This week all Jews the world over commence the last book of Torah. Devarim in Hebrew ( Deuteronomy being a Greek name), consists of a number of speeches by Moses. HIs opening speech begins with these words;

“It is eleven days journey from Sinai to the border point named Kadesh nearly abutting Canaan.”

Why did it take 40 years to travel 11 days’ worth of distance? Jokingly, we might answer that Moses was a male and he refused to ask someone for directions. The Torahitic answer is that the Israelites lost faith in themselves and in G-d after the 10 scouts shared a demoralizing and frightening message about the difficulties which lay ahead. In short, the Children of Israel were afraid of their future. They couldn’t see themselves as walking confidently into the next phase of their lives. Unlike our graduates, they did not feel prepared by their teachers and parents and were therefore unwilling and incapable of trusting in their skills and talents.

We adults have much to be proud of when it comes to our graduates. We have marshaled our best efforts to support and guide them as they begin their next steps. We have trained them to think, to problem-solve, to care, to love and to work. Hopefully, we have inculcated within them self-confidence that they may confront the challenges yet to be.

We can still share one more lesson with our graduates even as we take it to heart for ourselves; have faith. Recognize that God is walking with us and escorting us into the unknown. God wants us to succeed, to mature and to achieve. God wants us to rise up after falling and dust ourselves off. God approached Abraham and said ‘Walk for yourself to the land that I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1), indicating that God is escorting us personally along our own life paths. The word ‘ for yourself’ in Hebrew emphasizes that each us must stand up and move forward individually. In this week’s Parshah Moses reminds our ancestors (and us) that God wants the best for the People of Israel as it communally steps forward and makes its way into a new future.

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Updated: Jul 28, 2018

We all make promises. Routinely, we promise to run errands and perform tasks for other people.  Commitments, whether taking a neighbor’s recyclables to a recycling center or bringing meals to someone in the hospital, bind us to each other. While it is true that some of these promises may appear trivial in our eyes, those whom we promise to visit, to call and to remember, see our promises quite differently.  Every commitment we keep fosters a connection between two or more people.  And in a fractured society which appears to be ever more intent upon hastily rushing through daily life, we are afforded opportunities to uphold and to let drop our commitments, upholding and dropping our people.  The challenge before us is to uphold one another by prioritizing the promises we make. 

Pinky Swear


This week’s Parsha, Matot-Masei, opens with a directive by Moses to the chiefs of the 12 tribes, commanding them to transmit a message to all of Israel: “ A person who commits himself to a promise or a vow and enforces his vow by promising in God’s name, shall not make his words empty- he shall fulfill all that exits his mouth.”  Each Israelite possesses great power - to rid his words of significance or to fill words with spiritual meaning. So important are spoken promises that 12 chiefs are deputized to spread the message to the community.

     Why doesn’t Moshe himself instruct the Israelites to be cautious when making vows?  Put simply- because each member of the community knows these leaders and, over the course of daily life, it is more likely that a local leader has personally made a promise to a tribal member than Moses.  Having 12 chiefs walking throughout the community and instructing people in the holy act of promise-keeping will make a much stronger and greater impression on everyday people.

      You and I are a long way away from Moses. We never encountered God at Sinai and performing animal sacrifice is as unrealistic as picnicking on the Moon. However, promise-keeping is as routine as breathing.  Each of us has opportunities before us daily- to construct lines of respect and humanity between each other by keeping a promise.  True enough- some promises are bigger than others and require much more effort. But, we all appreciate the intrinsic value of keeping our word and we also know that fulfilling small promises lead to keeping more significant commitments. Picture yourself as fulfilling God’s word by collecting your friend’s mail.  Every vacation, every weekend you collect some mail; keeping a promise and becoming aware of the influence you bring into our world. Imagine a few million daily promises offered with sincerity and kept with devotion. Our world would change.

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July 7 - Parshat Pinchas - pp. 924 – 931

Within this Parsha is one of the most striking events

in Torah history. Prior to the appearance of the Five

Sisters, inheritance law favored only male heirs. Five

sisters approached Moses and revolutionized Jewish

law on the subject! You may not recall all of their

names but at least one is familiar- Noa. For the

record, NOA is a woman’s name and NOAH is a

man’s name. We need to remember that NOA was an

Israelite woman of action whereas Noah was a man

of non-specified ethnicity who followed all of God’s

direction without question. The full scene is found on

pp. 925 - 927.

Haftarat Pinchas - pp. 938 - 940

Elijah is at the end of his rope. Pursued by Israelite

soldiers who have been ordered to kill him by King

Ahab (yes, there was a Jewish Ahab and he was

cruel), Elijah takes shelter at Mt. Sinai. God came

forth to Elijah. There was a great wind, an

earthquake and a firestorm. How is God described?

This description becomes a center point in the High

Holiday liturgy.

July 14 - Parshat Matot-Masei - pp. 949 – 953

Forty years of wandering are nearly over! Moses

prepares the 12 tribes to cross into Israel. Suddenly,

21⁄2 tribes flout God, Moses and centuries of tradition

by proclaiming their desire to do _____(What?)____.

Haftarat Matot-Masei - pp. 973 – 977

If Israel returns to God, nations of the world will

bless themselves. Jeremiah lived at the time of the

first Temple’s destruction. What might he be saying

in this Haftarah?

July 21 - Parshat Devarim - pp. 990 – 994

In this section of Moshe’s speech he reminds Israel

that Esau and Moab (pp. 990 - 991) are not to be

displaced or attacked. Why? Does this make sense for

a nation about to conquer its land?

Haftarat Devarim - pp. 1000 – 1004

This Haftarah is famous and comes from the book of

Isaiah. He speaks to Israel 500 years after Moses. He

challenges them to purify their sins and change them

from deep red (scarlet) to snowy white. This

symbolism leaves the Haftarah and migrates to the

Yom Kippur liturgy. He nicknames the Jewish people

“Chiefs of Sodom”. What could possibly make us as

bad as the people of Sodom? Read verse 17 on p.


July 28 - Parshat Vaetchanan - pp. 1015 - 1031


What a Parshah!

And a Bar Mitzvah too! Sam Hochhauser, a new

member, will be reading from the Torah and

Haftarah. Please come to Shul and welcome his family!

Haftarat Vaetchanan – pp. 1033 - 1036

The Haftarah speaks of the importance of everybody

coming together to share simchas and to offer shared

comfort in times of loss. This message is for us all.

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