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07/22/2020 08:37:03 AM

Jul22

Rabbi Weinberg

LIFE’S LITTLE PAUSES GIVE US THE PERSPECTIVE WE NEED

PARSHAT MATOT U’MASSIE, 7/18/2020

 

I remember as a child taking many car trips. Living in Michigan, we would drive to New York City and Washington, DC, to visit family, sightsee, and tour the museums; and we would drive to Colorado and Wyoming in the winter to ski. Shortly before returning home, my parents would say to us three children lined up in the back seat: “Let’s review the trip. Where were our stops? What were the highlights?” And, we would re-capture our journey in words.

 

As parents, Wende and I did the same with our girls. Re-tracing our steps by articulating the journey, we told a story… It was our family’s story of that experience. To Michigan, California, Colorado, and Israel, with a few short stops in Europe, we all needed the time to review and recall the adventure.

 

As we have travelled as a congregation, we have done the same thing. Each day, another member of the trip was selected to be the scribe, helping us create a daily diary of our experiences. Some people stayed closer to the facts- when we got up, what we saw, where we ate lunch…We might refer to that as the P’shat- the simple, straightforward meaning of the text.

 

Others might provide a little more personal reflection- what they noticed at a stop, how they felt about a discussion we had on the bus, what disturbed them or put a smile on their face. This personal element we might refer to as Drash.

 

  1. Torah portion functions as that moment of reflection for the Jewish people, reviewing pivotal moments of a journey before reaching the end. In our case, the end is the Promised Land.

 

 

Today’s 2nd of 2-Torah portions is Massei and recalls each of the 42 stops the Israelites made while wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. For 38 years, God led them on a circuitous route from Egypt to the Land of Israel. As the book of Numbers concludes today, the Israelites are poised to cross the River Jordan. But, it seems as though the text is telling us — ‘Wait’ — we have to put this journey on pause for a few minutes, a short while, to review our journey . . .to ensure we have learned the lessons God wants us to carry with us from this experience. So, gazing out over the Land of Israel from the plains of today’s country of Jordan, Moshe Rabbeinu reviews the journey with his people. But, beyond reviewing the stops, Moshe exposes the meaning of this adventure.

 

The next book in the Torah- the final and concluding sefer- is Devarim, Deuteronomy in English. In 3 long speeches, Moshe Rabbeinu reminds his people of the many lessons God has imparted to them during the course of their journey.

 

In fact, the Book of Deuteronomy serves as Moshe’s ethical will to his people, shortly before he dies. It is a beautiful and poignant gesture towards the next generation. Alongside our estate planning, determining how to pass on our material possessions, we take the time to put into words the set of values we hope our children and grandchildren will have gleaned from us as their teachers and guides through life.

 

Before composing that ethical will we have to place our lives in perspective. We have to give ourselves a chance- the time- to learn the lessons and attempt to carry them with us.

 

 

That is what Shabbat is intended to do for us. For one 24-hour period every week, we put life on pause. As we make our way through the Kabbalat Shabbat service, we ask ourselves, “What happened this week? How did I do? What are the lessons I learned?”

 

I believe this is one of the reasons I enjoy speaking on Shabbat. I have to prepare. I have to review my week. I need to recall what upset me, what touched me, what compelled me to say ‘Wow’ to that moment.

 

This Shabbat is distinguished for all of us because it is known as the second Shabbat of admonition. We are in the midst of the 3 weeks marking the saddest days on our Jewish calendar. We recalled the breaching of the Temple walls with a partial fast last week- Shivah Asar b’Tammuz- and observe a full 24-hour fast in another 10 days, marking the end of this 3-week period with Tisha b’Av, known as the Black Fast.

 

Jeremiah, the source of this morning’s Haftarah, reminds Israel that God will not abandon them if they return to God. Jeremiah concludes the Haftarah with these words — “If you return to Me, O Israel, . . .nations will bless themselves by you and praise themselves by you.”

 

Today, we find ourselves mired in the throes of COVID-19. All eyes are on Texas as we have become one of a handful of hotspots across the country.

 

It was so difficult to suggest that we discontinue our minyan this morning. We meet every week to re-assess the COVID situation. Trying to make the best set of decisions for the shul we all love is so difficult. Follow the science, we are told, and so many jobs and livelihoods are lost and/or destroyed. But, if we choose not the follow the best advice of our medical professionals, we increase our chances of having someone contract this deadly disease while on our premises. I know I haven’t slept well for a while as we collectively have shared the burden of making one set of decisions after another that create so many repercussions.

 

I am reminded of the last words Moshe Rabbeinu states in the book of Bamidbar, “Eleh HaMitzvot v’HaMishpatim- These are the commandments and regulations that the Lord expects you to observe.”

 

Shortly, in the book of Devarim we read, “Chai bahem- you shall live by these—these same mitzvot. Repetitively, the rabbis teach us “Chai bahem…. v’lo yamut.- Live by these commandments and don’t die because of them.”

 

Keeping these guidelines in mind we have tried to make the right choices for our precious community here at Anshai Torah. Recognizing that this Shabbat rests in the middle of our three weeks of sadness associated with the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, we attempt to focus on the positive- protecting lives to the best of our ability, while embracing our dedication to our tradition. It is a difficult balance to maintain but, with the kind of perspective we gain when we live life with care and reflection we hope to make inspired and sanctified choices. We trust that as we continue to turn to God- in the words of Jeremiah- we will be blessed with peace, with sustenance, and the ability to weather this storm of COVID 19, enjoying life, again with our families, our communities, and our shul family here at Anshai Torah.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Stefan J. Weinberg

 

Thu, April 15 2021 3 Iyyar 5781