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Parashat Devarim

August 4, 2022
8 Av 5782
PARASHAT DEVARIM
Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22

By nature, I am a hopeful person. The challenges we face can be addressed when we come together, when we see the best in one another and not the worst. I am as guilty as anyone else in being critical of others and highlighting what is going wrong as opposed to what it is going right, but that is not necessarily the best way forward.

The confluence of this week’s Torah portion, which marks the start of the fifth book of the Torah, Devarim, and Tisha B’Av, the fast day which commemorates the destruction of both Temples along with a number of other calamities that have befallen the Jewish people, invites one to look at Tisha B’Av in a different way -- possibly with more hope.

When we read or hear Eicha (Lamentations) tomorrow night, we will hear the voices of refugees running for their lives, confronting unspeakable realities, and wondering what caused them to be in these desperate straits. In years past we have recalled the Shoah and its aftermath. this year we see the faces of those running from Afghanistan and Ukraine and the ravages of climate change. The rabbis teach that baseless hatred among our own people was the cause of the destruction. The picture painted with words is a dire one.

This teaching of baseless hatred being the root of total destruction is turned on its head in the words of Rav Kook’s oft-quoted teaching: “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to sinat chinam, baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love, ahavat chinam.” (Orot HaKodesh vol. III, p. 324)​​​​​​​

So much of how we live and make our way through the world is a matter of perspective. Our Torah portion is a retelling forty years after the fact of things that befell the people on their journey. Words are used to strengthen the people, to heighten their resolve as they are being prepared to go forward without Moses. And yet too often we just do not see the marvels before our eyes. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “One may see great wonders but remain entirely insensitive.”

I share with you this poem written by Yehuda Amichai and translated by my teacher Rabbi Steven Sager z’l.

Our perspective informs so much of what we do. Our task is to find blessings and the wonder in the smallest of moments, empowering us and strengthening us to engage with what needs doing. 

Shabbat Shalom,

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Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Fri, August 19 2022 22 Av 5782