Rabbi Eisen’s Shabbat Shalom Message

Shabbat Shalom!


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Torah and Haftarah portions.


Candlelighting for
Friday, September 23, 2016 • 5:59pm

• Our Portion for the Week


In this portion we conclude the review of the law code and Moses' second discourse. In the final details, the Israelites are instructed that when they enter the Promised Land and settle it, they are to bring an offering of first fruits. In accepting the offering, the priest is to recite a brief history of the people, from Abraham's and Jacob's wanderings to the occupation and possession of the land. Moses begins a third discourse which deals with enforcement of the law. Upon crossing the Jordan, the people are to set up 12 stones on Mt. Ebal on which they will inscribe the laws that Israel is to obey. This activity is to be followed by a dramatic recitation of the blessings that will accrue from obedience to God's work and the curses that will follow upon failure to obey. The passage of curses (known as TOCHECHAH, or warnings) is much longer and more detailed than the passage of blessings, indicating the difficulty of convincing the people that it is in their best interest to live by God's law.

• Our Question for the Week •

The Lord will make you the head, not the tail; you will always be at the top and never at the bottom – if only you obey and faithfully observe the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day. (Deuteronomy 28:13)

It is significant that the first section of our verse is reformulated as a traditional Rosh Hashannah Eve blessing: "May it be Your will… that we be the head and not the tail" – often recited over a fish (or sheep!!) head. How does the rest of the verse (and broader Scriptural context) help elucidate the meaning and intention of this High Holy Day petition?

Is being "on top" – or constantly moving in that direction – the proper goal? Is constant spiritual ascent even possible? How do we assure upward spiritual mobility after life's inevitable slips, falls, and set-backs?

The top is not always an enviable (or even admirable) position. How might we redefine our verse's reference to "the top" to clarify the meaning of the promised blessing? Who are your "top" choices as role models for your children (or yourself)?

Should our congregations aspire to be peopled entirely by "heads" and leaders? Does that make for an unwieldy (if not uncommon!!) communal dynamic? Are there instances in which we should willingly and proudly be followers? Can "schlepping" be a sacred undertaking?!

In at least most areas of human experience, we will find those who are more gifted and accomplished than we, as well as those who are less so. How might this itself be a blessing?