Ekev (5776) — The Runway

29/08/2016 at 11:37 Leave a comment



Parashat Ekev

Neil F. Blumofe

27 August 2016


Yesterday afternoon, I called my oldest son who lives in Brooklyn to offer him the Shabbat blessings a parent offers to a child – as I usually do, every week.  As many of you may remember, he has just returned from leading a Birthright Trip to Israel and he has begun his fall semester at college, and we hadn’t yet had an opportunity to catch up.


He was telling me how over the journey, he led two Shabbat experiences for the Birthright contingent – 40 young people, ages 18-26.  The first Shabbat coincided with Tisha b’Av – so he also chanted a chapter of the Book of Lamentation and spoke to the travelers about how to live with both tragedy and joy, together.  After that first Shabbat, the Israeli guides took him aside and mentioned that while they appreciated his depth and intensity and they admired his passion, that in their experience the groups that they had seen were not yet ready for such intense moments.  They asked that he consider a longer runway for bringing the people into the richness and the complexity of what Judaism and being Jewish offered – especially while in Israel.


With his usual levelheadedness, he took their advice and in that next Shabbat in the context of the prayers and themes of the day, was asking the group to think about what emotions usually surface for each of them when they feel uncomfortable, disappointed, or overwhelmed.  What were their go to responses?  Did they each take responsibility for how they themselves felt, or did they lash out at another and seek to pin blame, fault, and inadequacy on someone else?


After an initial backlash from one or two of the participants who felt annoyed by this exercise, once each of them allowed this to be a legitimate exploration, my son mentioned that the group was able to grow in connection and in respect for each other and in what motivated each of them as they looked to flourish and move through life.  In the context of their experiences together – even the Israeli guides whose opinions my son respected and heeded – were able to fully participate in this work, trusting that the intense moments shared with the group on the 10-day journey offset their own concerns of what could be the ramifications of too honest a conversation.


Our Torah, in profound wisdom, prepares us nicely for to do this similar work as we anticipate the new Hebrew month of Elul.  Our tradition teaches that this month, just before the turning of the New Year, is when God is closest to us – and offers us the chance to be most vulnerable and ready to move past our own familiar stories and truths that we hold to be immutable – past the limits of our own assumptions, as we seek to improve our lives.


The concept of teshuvah is ascendant now – a time, not when we wipe our slates clean with each other, but rather, when we realize that our relationships together continue in the brokenness that has been and in the fresh hopes that still await us.


Moses is addressing the people on the banks of the Jordan River, just before they enter into the Promised Land without him.  In his own processing of his disappointment that he will be left on the Eastern bank of the Jordan, while the people move forward – he reminds the people of their baser qualities as he prepares them for the journey and ultimately, for confrontation with those others who are already living in cities across the river.


Moses reminds them that they have been constantly coarse and reckless with each other – and because of their behavior, have disrespected God all along their journey.  Moses reminds them of their building a Golden Calf – and how Moses broke the original tablets and went back to Mount Sinai to get a replacement – and here the Torah provides an exquisite detail – that both the new Tablets and the original ones that Moses smashed would together be contained in the ark that the people carried.


Moses is reminding the people of their mistakes – and rather than focus exclusively on them, having them become the centerpiece of all future interactions with the people – rather than having these mistakes become the only topic of conversation – and the only defining action that describes the people forevermore, the Torah takes this brokenness and puts it in a box – allowing it to coexist with a restorative future.


Our sages speculate on this instruction and offer creative ideas of why now the group is actually more whole in assimilating what disappointments have been, rather than casting them aside.  What is the value in knowing ourselves and how we react to mistakes?  How can this knowledge prepare us for the confrontations that we will inevitably have with others who are hostile to us?  How can true forgiveness not be a trite – forgive and forget, but rather a commitment to live again and again in relationship together – always communicating and acknowledging the scars that surely come after living in relationship.  What is the value of the brokenness?


As Jews, we mark the period of mourning with a tear of a ribbon or of our clothing – we project to the world that we are broken and diminished – and after a period of time the external kria goes away and we are expected to immerse again in the world. And yet, those of us who have been mourners – we realize that the internal tearing never fully heals.  Our hearts, once wounded, remember the wound.  Are we able to live fully with tragedy and joy in the same place?  Can we carry both the second tablets and the broken ones in the same box together, as people expect us to eventually move on?


The Talmud sage Reish Lakish teaches – p’amim shebitulah shel Torah z’hu y’suda — that there are times when the nullification of Torah may be its foundation (Menachot 99b).    As the New Year approaches, seeing, collecting, and carrying the breaking may give us a new way forward – and allow us to engage each other wakefully and compassionately.  If we realize that we are all mourners to some degree – carrying a broken heart inside of us, we can engage differently – allowing us to really explore what emotions usually surface for each of us when we feel uncomfortable, disappointed, or overwhelmed – and we can modulate.


Together, can we not be stronger as a coalition of the willing?  Are each of us ready to embark upon this journey of transformation – proactively applying the gifts of our tradition, rather than reactively avoiding them or paying lip service to them?  In these intense moments, can we allow ourselves to move beyond our initial emotional defense mechanisms – accepting this gift — a new day, in a new month dedicated to teshuvah — with new tablets that are more valuable to us precisely because they are joined wherever we go — in our tragedy and in joy — in the constant reminder of our brokenness.


Shabbat Shalom.

Entry filed under: Judaism, Talmud, Torah, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , .

Va’etchanan (5776) — Being Moses The Great Gate — Erev Rosh haShanah 5777

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

August 2016
« Sep   Oct »

%d bloggers like this: