Shoftim — 5770 — Towards the End of the Page

16/08/2010 at 12:28 Leave a comment

“Towards The End of the Page”

Shabbat Shoftim

14 August 2010

Neil F. Blumofe

As we delve more deeply into the Book of Deuteronomy, I am increasingly aware that in addition to the many mitzvot that guide us and shape our worldview and sharpen our speech and behavior – in addition to all of this, the experience of this last book of the Torah is also about Moses as he reviews his life at the banks of the Jordan – therefore we too can put ourselves in his place, and with the emerging High Holydays and our hopes to be inscribed with good health in the Book of Life for another year, we too can confront our aging and perhaps too, begin to terms with our mortality.

In a few short weeks we will stand together and implore our God in our prayer called Shema Koleinu – al tashlicheinu l’eit zikna, kichlot kocheinu al ta’azveinu – God do not cast us away when we are old, when our strength is gone, do not abandon us. And as our awareness is heightened during these Days of Awe, we too meditate on similar words everyday after praying our Amidah – al tatzricheinu lidei matnat basar va’dam, v’ad ziknah v’seiva al ta’azveinu – may I not be dependent upon the gifts of others; forsake me not as I grow older.

Here we find Moses presiding over his own transition – training the next generation – and as important as that is, it is achingly human to want to slow this process down, to not retire early, to still feel the vitality coursing through our aging bodies as we want so desperately to still be relevant, to still matter.  Shakespeare writes, “we are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life, is rounded with a sleep.”  Our life passes too quickly – as we remember in the Psalms, ki gaz chish va’nau’fa – life quickly passes and flies away. What is the sum of our accomplishments?  What have we stood for – in our complexities and ambiguities, what endures?

As many of you know, at the beginning of Yom Kippur, all of the past presidents gather in this very space and receive the sifrei Torah as the Kol Nidre prayer is chanted.  At the turn of every new month, a representative from the Past Presidents Council stands here next to me, holding the Torah – in both cases, holding fast to the Torah represents wisdom, guidance and stability as new paths are forged.  It is humbling to stand among the elders of the congregation when they discuss the long arc of their lives and mention how things were done in this place, in the past. When I speak to many of our elders throughout the community, it is easy to be spellbound by the drama of their lives and realize how things seem so similar now – and if one is not careful, to take all of this in with some resignation, despondent that things would ever improve.  Yet, this is our challenge.  How can we review our life, inspiring those who succeed us to try new things, without losing hope that what we have done has made a difference?  How many times have we found ourselves trying the same things, repeating the same behaviors, barking up the same tree, in a wane hope that somehow, things will be different?  How much of what we do the same each time, stems from habit and how much from fear?

As we prepare for the High Holydays or even when we live each day, are we going through the motions, just reacting to the calendar or are we allowing ourselves the possibility of living in a transforming way?  Can we interrupt our increasing cycle of anxiety as we live each passing year and just stop – refreshed in what time we do have, content in more simple things and tolerant of our past, in all of its wild goose chases, blind alleys and squandered opportunities.  Can we find happinesses, present in themselves?

Here, Moses is working – he is a vessel for God.  Soon, his service will be over and after he has relayed a way of life to the people, he pauses, unsatisfied in his own ambition to enter into the Promised Land.  And a perfect complement to Moses, is the prophet Isaiah who reminds us with words of comfort to conquer our fears and to be content that we are God’s people – to be secure in this relationship, no matter our situation. So we see, in this moment, between Moses and Isaiah, we are in an incredibly rich intersection of faith and meaning – trying to find ways to make this world matter in difficult and rapidly changing circumstances.  We know that the end of every life is death – yet, rather than having this thought grip us and render us powerless, we should embrace every moment, not for our own acquisitions, rather to bring justice, justly into this world, without pronouncing our own judgments.

May we cultivate the power of patience as we tend to the elderly and as we ourselves age.  May we listen to our bodies and our souls that we are human and not try to block out our creaking and our groaning and our dissatisfaction with pursuits that ignore our core and our higher purpose and our innate holiness. We may learn much from our traditions and our ancestors, as we study this book of the Torah and as we see, how quickly time passes and our children grow.

So, let us take a moment here, to set our intentions with introspection for these next few weeks that lead us into the High Holydays and the turning of the New Year – let us capture this moment with our true power of uplift and hold fast to trying to live with more gentleness, vision and accommodation for each other’s quirks, inclinations and tendencies.  Like Moses, let us do our work, undaunted and like Isaiah, let us cultivate a belief that what we are doing matters and is part of the larger picture of God.

In the past several weeks, I have spoken about framing our lives with blessings – with the Shema Yisrael and with a simple one line prayer of gratitude, appropriate for after we eat.  So, now let us frame a thought or two that when we soon wake up to the Shema Koleinu, we not feel the chill or realization that God is saying, “hurry up please it’s time,” and that we are not ready.  Let us prepare in this moment, to get past our ego and ask ourselves the most difficult questions of meaning now — and let us rely on each other, to carry us forward into this next moment in friendship, respect, kindness and compassion.

(Moment of reflection)

Al tashlicheinu l’eit zikna, kichlot kocheinu al ta’azveinu.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Re’eh — 5770 — Living in the Day Ki Tavo — 5770 — The Chosen People

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