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Rabbi's Erev Shabbat Message

08/07/2020 11:33:15 AM


Shabbat  Ekev
Days of Testing

This is the most important test of your life

Shalom Shir Tikvah Learning Community,


The book of the Torah that the Jewish people all over the world is now re-reading for the gazillionth time is Devarim, Deuteronomy. It is a retelling of the events of the preceding three books, in a way, but as with every retelling, the tale adapts and morphs as we tell it. Every teacher knows that one must consider who is listening or reading; every human heart processes in our own unique way. 


Seeing this in the Torah’s fifth and final book is a lesson to us: telling is not the end. Retelling, re-hearing, and re-reading bring us new insights, even as each day is new. As the prayer reminds us, כל יום מחדש מעשה בראשית kol yom m’hadesh ma’aseh Bereshit, the Holy One “every day renews the work of creation.” We, in our work as שותפי אלהים shutfey Elohim, partners with G*d, strive to renew ourselves so as to do the work of renewing the world.


The parashat hashavua for this week is Ekev, a word that means “as a result of” or, more literally, “[following on] the heel of.” By means of some act, a reality follows as a consequence. Moshe tells us that HaShem becomes known to us as we are tested, and as we come to know ourselves and our capacity.


These are our days of testing, surely! We ourselves wander now in a wilderness of uncertainty as difficult and intense as any our ancestors experienced in the Torah’s telling. Suddenly the words of our parashah are more resonant than we realized last year, or last century.


וְזָכַרְתָּ֣ אֶת־כָּל־הַדֶּ֗רֶךְ אֲשֶׁ֨ר הֹלִֽיכֲךָ֜ ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ זֶ֛ה אַרְבָּעִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה בַּמִּדְבָּ֑ר לְמַ֨עַן עַנֹּֽתְךָ֜ לְנַסֹּֽתְךָ֗ לָדַ֜עַת אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֧ר בִּֽלְבָבְךָ֛ הֲתִשְׁמֹ֥ר מצותו [מִצְוֺתָ֖יו] אִם־לֹֽא׃

Remember the long way that HaShem your God made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that you would be tested by hardships to learn what was in your hearts: whether you would keep the mitzvot or not. (Devarim 8.2)


My beloved companions on our shared spiritual journey, I have always promised you that I will share Torah teaching as I know it - and also recognize that I am no prophet, and that my knowledge is always limited by my own heart’s scars, just as yours is. My vision is no different than anyone else who seeks to look through a glass darkly, as our tradition describes it. 


On this parashat Ekev this is what I perceive:


The test of our days is exactly this: this wilderness of uncertainty is full of terrible hardships, and more are likely to come. We are stalked by a mortal plague; we are surrounded by the impact of the ongoing degradation of the earth we depend on for our lives; the malicious current administration and its supports in the corporate U.S. are bent on a course that bodes evil for those of us who are vulnerable, whether in health or in employment.


These are the hardships, and this is the test. The only question left is what is in our hearts: will we keep the mitzvot or not?


This is not the test of a manipulative demigod with nothing better to do than to arbitrarily inflict suffering just to see how the lab rats behave in response.


This is about whether we can see that the mitzvah system is the Jewish key to sanity in these days. We used to ask if we were Jewish enough that our grandchildren would also be. Now the question is simply this: are we Jewish enough to survive as Jews?


Being Jewish is not a question of passive identity anymore in the United States of America. The test of our days is whether being Jewish offers you a scaffolding of meaning strong enough to hold onto. Is HaShem your “rock and redeemer”, that is, your certainty and safe place? When something happens to shake your days, do you have the spiritual tools to steady you that Judaism offers at hand?


If you have decided to remain a Jew in these dangerous days, the least you can expect is support for this test. If you don’t feel you have enough to take this test and pass it as a Jew, I invite you to plunge yourself into our upcoming High Holy Day season as deeply as if you were in a mikveh, the sacred gathering of waters that translates also as “hope.”


If being Jewish is a coat you put on for someone else, and not the framework that holds and guides your being, it will not hold you up in the days of testing. Come in the water the rest of the way. It will hold you up, along with the rest of us, until we can see the farther shore.


Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Ariel

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Mon, August 10 2020 20 Av 5780