Rabbi Eisen’s Shabbat Shalom Message
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Friday, September 19, 2014 • 6:07 pm
• Our Portion for the Week •
NITZAVIM – DEUTERONOMY 29:9 – 30:20
The SEDRAH continues with Moses' third farewell address to Israel. Moses points out that all of Israel is gathered together for the completion of their Covenant with God. It is a Covenant which is binding upon every one of them, men, women, and children alike. It is binding also upon all of the generations of Israel that will follow, for all time to come. The Torah and its teachings will be theirs as much as if they had personally received it at Sinai. Israel of past, present and future are bound by the Covenant into an unending continuity. But Moses, having led Israel for four decades, knows that they are capable of straying from God's teachings, and he foretells that they will break from the Covenant in the future. Israel will be tempted to imitate the pagan ways of neighboring nations. Selfishness will mislead others among Israel with the feeling that they can get away with it. But God will not overlook Israel's wrongdoing and they shall suffer for this. Their land will be destroyed and they will be driven into exile. But this doom of which Moses speaks, will not be permanent. Israel will sincerely repent of the wrongs committed, and God will gather them from the lands of their exile, and He will restore them to their land. They will again enjoy the blessings of the Covenant. Israel will discover that God's commandments and teachings are within reach of every man, woman and child; that they bring meaning to life and make life worthwhile.
VAYELECH – DEUTERONOMY 31:1-30
The SEDRAH tells of the appointment of Joshua by Moses to be his successor as leader of Israel. He must give up his long assignment as their leader, Moses informs the people age has over taken him and death is near. Moses assures the people that they have no need to be afraid. God will be with them and He will guide Joshua as He had guided Moses. To be strong and of good courage is the instruction which Moses gives to Joshua. God will be with him, Moses assures his successor. Moses completes the writing of the Torah and he entrusts it to the KOHANIM and the Elders of Israel. He instructs them to read the Torah before the people at regular intervals; the Torah was not to remain the specialty of the priests, but was to be heard and to become familiar to all of the people.
• Our Question for the Week •
Surely, this instruction that I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond your reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, 'Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?' No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.
"We are not a religion of intercessors, saints, and hierarchies of gods. There is nothing between us and the Deity. The Torah exists, and we as Jews are not only free, not only encouraged, but constitutionally disposed, to debate it and interpret it. Yet we are told that there was no one like Moses, and there never will be again. We need not aspire to that post – the position has been filled. Each Jew since Moses has an absolutely equal share in the Torah and the word of God. 'It is not in Heaven, where we must send someone' to hear it for us." David Mamet
In his memorable phrase, David Mamet insists that Jews are "constitutionally disposed" to debate and interpret the Torah, that each and every Jew has "an absolutely equal share in the Torah and the word of God." Does that mean all interpretations of the Torah are equally valid, equally correct, or equally true to the text? It is true that none of us is Moses – but how are we to determine which religious perspectives are to be embraced and honored? How does Mamet's statement compare to the assertion in the U.S. Declaration of Independence – it was considered to be a "self-evident truth" – that "All men are created equal"?