Thursday, September 30, 2010

Simchat Torah 5771: God Heart's Stories, Again and Again.

There is a wonderful Midrash about Simchat Torah. The last word of Deuteronomy Is Yisrael( ישראל ), and the first word of Genesis is Breshit ( בראשית ). Take the last and first letters in Torah and you get the word Leiv ( לב ), the word for heart. Telling stories are loved so much, when we end the Story of Moses's life, we go back and immediately start with the story of creation once again.

In Jewish writings there is Halakah, which is the law, its interpretations and its interpolations. There is also everything else, known as Aggadah, including stories, interpretations of those stories, known as Midrash, ethical literature, theological musings and even poetry. The Medieval French Commentator Rashi noted an interesting division between Halalkah and Aggadah right from the word Breishit:

In the beginning: Said Rabbi Isaac: It was not necessary to begin the Torah except from “This month is to you,” (Exod. 12:2) which is the first commandment that the Israelites were commanded... Now for what reason did He commence with “In the beginning?” Because of [the verse] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations” (Ps. 111:6). For if the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],” they will reply, "The entire earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it (this we learn from the story of the Creation) and gave it to whomever He deemed proper When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.[ Rashi to Gen 1:1 Chabad Online Library]

The first part of the Torah therefore is all Aggadah, primarily meant to describe the world as God's creation, and that God owns it and can give and take things at will. This cannot come across as mere law, story works much better. The origin stories legitimize everything that comes later.

There is a story in the Talmud about Aggadah and Halakah. Two rabbis walk into a town, and head for the town square, one begins to lecture about Halakah and one about Aggadah. Everyone flocks to the Aggadist and no one listens to the Halakist. On their way out of town the Halakist sulks. The Aggadist, trying to cheer his friend up, tells him a parable. "To what could this be compared to? To a merchant of pots and pans and to a merchant of precious jewels. Would not people flock to the pots and pans?"

Stories are useful and approachable. They convey emotion and they can convey a moral or ethical lesson. While Torah contains Halakah, it is important to note that it is primarily Exodus through Deuteronomy which contain Halakah. As the Talmudic rabbis so eloquently describe, prophets are prohibited from making Halakah, unless in a dire emergency. The prophets and writings are all story. Indeed the Reform movement in its inception pretty much rejected the mitzvot of Torah as antiquated practices. Instead it embraced the Aggadah of the prophets. And while the role of Halakah in the Reform movement has changed, it still is not binding as it is in Orthodoxy. Instead it is still driven by the stories Reform Jews know, and that primarily is the same stories of the prophets crying out for social justice. Orthodoxy can get extreme in Halakic orientation, Reform is still Aggadah powered in the spectrum of things.

This is not to say that Orthodoxy does not have Aggadah or Reform does not have Halakah. Both have both, but like the difference between a cinnamon coffee with a dash of milk and a Vanilla Latte, it is just in differing proportions and differing flavors. Neither is right or wrong, each has its merit. Halakah gives structure and strengh. Agggadah ethics and theology. Halakah is what we do, Aggadah is why we do it.

Shavuot is our celebration of Halakah. Simchat Torah is about story, it is about Aggadah. It is the celebration of our ability to read the same story over and over again, and each time pull new insights from it. It is the celebration of how much we love this book. Torah is both precious gems and pots and pans. It's been said God loves stories. Those pots and pans are a big half of our existence. But like many a small child, God likes the same stories to be read over and over again, and delights in ending and then beginning the cycle anew. We all get to be the little child bouncing on their bed, now, excited that we are beginning that book we love so much over again.

It is my wish that this year brings many good stories in your own and many good insights from the story we call Torah.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sukkot 5771: What is the Difference Between Wind and Breath?

Like many Jews around the world, the morning after breaking the fast of Yom Kippur, I helped build a Sukkah. As must of liberal Judaism does, I do not have my own, but have the sukkah of a prayer community I'm involved with. With a September Sukkot, and rather good weather, it seems all the more enticing, to dwell out in this structure for a few days.

Also like many Jews around the world, I spent the first few days after Sukkot talking with other Jews about their Yom Kippur. We would talk about their fast and how they lasted before breaking their fast. We would talk about each rabbi's sermon or D'var Torah and we would talk about how the services were presented. One conversation I had was with someone who had very mixed feelings about video screen PowerPoint presentations during the sermon. I, for one was taken aback at such a blatant use of technology. I'll let a few instruments in services, no problem, but there seem to be a line crossed when a video screen, either connected to a computer or television system is part of the holiest day of Yom Kippur. My reaction led me to think of some interesting Hebrew vocabulary we find during Sukkot.

While most people connect the reading of the Megillah with the reading of Megilat Esther, the reading for Purim, there are actually five such readings from the Ketuvim, the writings of the biblical text, each associated with a holiday on the calendar. The traditional reading during the holiday of Sukkot is Ecclesiastes, in Hebrew Kohelet, supposedly written by king Solomon in his old age. That book starts on a less than optimistic tone, and gets gloomy from there:
א דברי קוהלת בן-דויד, מלך בירושלים. ב הבל הבלים אמר קוהלת, הבל הבלים הכול הבל. ג מה-יתרון, לאדם: בכל-עמלו--שיעמול, תחת השמש.

1 The words of Kohelet, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 Vanity of vanities, said Kohelet; vanity of vanities, all is vanity. 3 What profit has man of all his labor when he labors under the sun? [Kohelet 1]
The key word in this verse is, חבל , Hevel. Here it is translated vanity, but a check of the Brown Driver Briggs Lexicon gives us some texture to that word.
From Google books BDB Page 211

We also have verses including hevel and something else of interest, the first of these being:

יד רָאִיתִי, אֶת-כָּל-הַמַּעֲשִׂים, שֶׁנַּעֲשׂוּ, תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ; וְהִנֵּה הַכֹּל הֶבֶל, וּרְעוּת רוּחַ.
14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.[Kohelet 1]
The word for wind here is רוּחַ Ruach. On page 1112 of the Brown Driver Briggs Lexicon reads like this.

From Google Books BDB pg 924

In kohelet 1:14 we have wind in a phrase "striving after wind." The word used as striving in the Biblical text is found only here so understanding it cannot be done by context. However we can look to the Aramaic translation, the Targum, for its meaning of the word. In the Targum chasing after wind is translated ותבירות רוחא , which gives us a new word, תבירות translated in English by the Jastrow Dictionary as:

From Tynedale Archive Jastrow Dictionary pg 1644

Thus the parallelism in kohelet all is vanity and a striving after wind talks about disappointment and futility. Yet in both words, the image of air flow is important, In hevel, it is a breath, in ruach it is a strong wind. We cannot catch the wind, and we cannot sustain breathing out. That is the common image of futility. Yet there is also a large difference between the two. Ruach is a sustainable wind, lasting a long time if not forever, much like our spirit and souls. Ruach can be strong compared to Hevel's feebleness. Hevel is a mere wisp of breath, so fleeting to be meaningless. Indeed it is so common, most of our lives we ignore it completely.
Ruach is our home, Hevel our sukkah. Ruach is our soul, Hevel the petty meaningless thoughts we have everyday. Ruach is genius behind a classic novel, Hevel the latest gossip tweet about some 2nd rate actress. They are a polarity, one where we can see where there is meaning.

Hevel all too often happens on video monitors. It's not the use of electricity on a holiday that disturbs me, as much as the Hevel that makes up its content. Many argue we need such things to keep the younger generation engaged, and many of the older generations as well. But if we use things that have no substance, how can we build substance? PowerPoint and short videos are all hevel. They might engage an emotion, but they rarely engage the mind for long, if at all.

It is therefore ironic, that something so like hevel, a sukkah, is so good at countering hevel. Exposing us to the lie that hevel is substantial, we live in something that is temporary and very leaky. We get days that the wind blows us and our decorations around while threatening the structural integrity of our little home. In a sukkah we are subjected to cold and rain. But we are also blessed by seeing stars and meteors, the beautiful designs the Ruach shapes clouds into sculptures and paintings, the comedy of squirrels. Many of these change, but they are almost always there. Seeing them engages parts of our souls and spirits that may be asleep. We can engage our imagination, our will toward doing good things, here in the sukkah, all of this grows our personal Ruach. We cannot catch Ruach, but we can grow it by observing it.

King Solomon was right to be pessimistic in his old age. Even in his low tech times, he found that much of life was vanity and chasing after wind. Pursuing wealth, collecting wisdom or being a party boy, only leaves one as satisfied as eating one potato chip. Yet I believe, if we do not pursue wind, but sit there and observe it, then somehow in the observing, we energize the spirit and inspiration needed in our lives and in our souls.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Yom Kippur 5771: The First Step, The First Sail

I have not been feeling very spiritual for a few weeks now. I felt rather disconnected in a sense, and the light of God in me seems to have gone out. I have found just when things are so dark, a light is found. Such lights for me are always a book from an unexpected quarter. This time it'a a book by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Recovery -- The Sacred Art, his spiritual take on the 12 steps used in addiction recovery. It is Shapiro's view of the first step that has me thinking a lot:
Step 1 - We admitted we were powerless over our lives - that our lives had become unmanageable

Instead of our addicition as in most twelve step programs, we are to look at our lives as completely unmanageable, and we have no control over them. It is God, or the Higher Power in 12-step terminology, that does.

This seems to be contradictory to the idea of free will. Free will does not mean we are free to do anything and control everything. I would love to be home in twenty minutes from work, but I cannot control the speed of traffic on my way home from work, so it usually takes an hour or two. If I do not understand that I will become frustrated, I might even become stressed out, angry or sick. I felt that frustration this week trying to configure a set of computers and a network. I don't control enough that it works perfectly all the time, nor do I control the demands of others on my time. That is frustrating and anger inducing.

Paging through my Reconstructionst Mahzor I found something I had read many times before but I saw differently:
We have acted wrongly, we have been untrue, and we have gained unlawfully and we have defamed. We have harmed others, we have wrought injustice, we have zealously transgressed, and we have hurt and have told lies. We have improperly advised, and we have covered up the truth, and we have laughed in scorn. We have misused responsibility and have neglected others and have stubbornly rebelled. We have offended, we have perverted justice, and have stirred up enmity, and we have kept ourselves from change. We have reached out to evil, we have treated shamelessly, we have corrupted and have treated others with disdain. Yes, we have thrown ourselves off course, and we have tempted and misled. [Kol haneshama 819]

This was a translation of the Ashamnu, the shorter, alphabetic acrostic one of the two confessional prayers. The Al Heiyt, the longer of the two continues in the same mindset with even greater specificity. Reading both I realized we are really only confessing manifestations of one set of sins:
For the sin before You for believing ourselves to be You
For the sin before You of expecting to be your power
And for the sin before You to judge what you alone judge.

The true sin is believing we are God. When we believe we actually have control of the universe, we not only delude ourselves with this illusion, we sin. We end up doing something harmful to ourselves, to others, or very often both. I think that is what Rami Shapiro was getting at in his book. We do not control the universe -- God does.

Yet, paradoxically we do have free will. We choose what we want to do -- we choose our course. there are times we will choose badly and times we do a good job. We can choose to understand the nature of divine will or not. We can try to counter divine will if we want, but with consequences, very often negative ones to ourselves, our relationships and to our environment. It is at this time of year we try to repair some of those consequences and prepare to not make those mistakes in the coming year.

Many have problems with the term divine will, it is often sounding dictatorial compared to many of our notions of freedom. As a beginning sailor, one who does so many things still completely wrong, I've been thinking differently about this term. I've been using a Hebrew word that many know in the English: ruach ( רוח ). Ruach can be translated many ways, based on a verbal root to breathe. It can mean breath, spirit, soul, and wind. Ruach Hakodesh, might be translated holy wind, holy breath, or holy spirit. I keep thinking as a beginning sailor of Ruach Hakodesh.

We do have choice. We have the choice to how we act in the Ruach Hakodesh. I thought of a parable about boats again to explain what Rabbi Rami was trying to say. This can be compared to a sail boat. I have no control over wind, or water or weather. I may be rained on, or the wind may be strong or weak, or heading in the direction I am not going. I cannot tell the wind to blow at ten knots to the south east. I have no control over it. But I can trim my sails and steer in ways that will let me move. I cannot control anything but I can react accordingly to what is there. Of course to know what is there, I must be aware. I can see the wind on the water, and often can feel it on my face. Knowing that I am not controlling the world around me, I am free to perceive and react accordingly, and free to sail where ever I want, with little effort. So too with the Ruach Hakodesh. I cannot control it or presume to control it, but react in a holy and righteous way to what happens in my life.

Even in a sail boat, steering is a art of subtlety and awareness. Without it, one might capsize or be be thrown overboard. Tacks and jibes move the boom rather quickly from one side of the boat to the other, and one must watch one's head continually. A rudder or sail in the wrong place may tilt the boat precariously, as I v'e learned the hard way once too often. While the movements must be quick, they must also be subtle. I am not out to single handedly save the world, but live a good, just life, and do things that let others do so too. I am not God or a god, nor do I have the power knowledge or wisdom of God, I can only do little things without capsizing my boat.

This is what Yom Kippur is to remind us of. Besides the confessionals, and a few prayers for the high holidays like Netana Tokef, it is just a regular service. It is a service where we try to recognize something about ourselves -- that we cannot control the universe, not even ourselves. One day of hunger and intense, almost non-stop prayer reminds us of how little we control our own bodies. Most have problems with a one-day fast. We are reminded that we cannot even control our hunger for even a few hours. We are also reminded of those who have no food and still have no control of their hunger. Humbling ourselves with how little power we have, and recognizing who really has it.

May you have a good fast and be sealed in the book of fully living.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Shabbat Shuvah/ Haazinu 5771: Turning and Turning Again.

In the season of repentance I'll admit I was wrong about something about last week's drash. I did find one place where I did enjoy High Holiday services. It was the second day of Rosh Hashana at Northwestern Hillel. It was a small room, and we often had to wait quite a while to get a minyan to start services. I realized that nothing that was true of the bigger services was true of this little one. I though that it was charming, and very very comfortable. Not everyone prayed the same way, but that did not matter either.

That thought came to me at Erev Rosh Hashanah services. Instead of my usual venue, we went with many of our friends to their services The sanctuary was far from full, and there was definitely no fashion contest going on. I found it kind of cute there might have been a contest to see how oddly one could dress. The choir was there, all eight or ten strong in a room far too big for their voices, singing a cappella without the help of microphones. This congregation rented this from a congregation who needed to rent a church to hold the large number they had for services. It was in a strange way comfy. It was so comfy, I spent first day services there, though I had originally planned on going back to my current synagogue.

I've been in big and little synagogues for much of my life. I like the little. Even my current big synagogue is more an umbrella to the little minyan I spent Saturday mornings in. I find this comforting. I'm not the only one. Demographic studies from Synagogue 3000 are showing a shift to smaller emergent communities and away from the big synagogue, particularly among Jews under the age of forty. [link, pg 13,14] . The study mentions that this demographic feels alienated in the traditional synagogue who is often focused on young children and education. The assumptions that under 40 childless couples and singles have are far different than families, and the emergent communities and independent minyans are finding a large number of their members (87% for emergent communities compared to 29% for NJPS 2000- 2001 synagogue definition) to be less than 40.

One response I got from my previous post had an interesting beginning, which that statistic reminded me of

How about remembering what I call the Mayflower Midrash, the verse that used to be posted in Mayflower Donut Shops across the country, As you wander on through life, Brother/Whatever be your goal,/Keep your eye upon the donut/And not upon the hole.

I hadn't heard of Mayflower doughnuts, so I did some research. Mayflower doughnuts had the first operational doughnut making machine in their first bakery in New York. In the times I went to visit my grandparents there, I don't remember this at all, since I would have been an infant or toddler. By the time the last Mayflower doughnut shop shuttered it doors almost 40 years ago, I still would have been too young to read it. The comment is indeed very true, and wise in many respects. My rant in many people's eye was unnecessary, and though I thought I made it clear the problem for my prayer is a financial shot in the arm for most congregations. Yet, the use of that slogan led me to realize that this is also a generational assumption. Some generations know Mayflower doughnuts, some have never heard of them.

Parshat Haazinu is the transition from one generation to another. A lot like Mayflower doughnuts, there is a generation who lives on the west side of the Jordan and the ones mostly under 40 who will live on the east side. Moses has the people who will live in the land give ear to the last instructions, ones that can only be made by someone who didn't see the wonders of Egypt and the Exodus. With the exception of Joshua and Caleb, Moses is the last of his generation, the last alive who witnessed the plages, the Red Sea and Sinai. In many respect, Moses is the last. There were many assumptions made by the people who left Egypt, Moses included. From their times as spies onward, Joshua and Caleb make different assumptions, and are thus awarded the privilege of entering the land, of being part of the younger generation. Moses does not, and thus is left on the east side of the Jordan. Assumptions allow us to be on one side of the river or the other. In the time of deciding what way to turn, shuva means turning. It is something we think about in these ten days: which way do we turn? Which assumptions do we keep and which do we forgo?

Where I was for Rosh Hashanah removes some very strong assumptions in many Jewish communities. Some it shares with many emergent communities, such as not emphasizing children's education, like the traditional synagogue does. That fits my own experience, one of many assumptions I hold true. Some assumptions I realized are very different from my own as I listened to three congregant's reflections during the Shofar service. It will take some getting used to, and indeed getting comfortable with. The challenge to my assumptions is welcome. I am as welcoming of those challenges as the people of this community are welcoming of me -- with bear hugs.

This is the time of turning. The Perkei Avot, speaking of Torah proclaims
25. Ben Bag-Bag used to say of the Torah: Turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it. Pour over it, and wax gray and old over it. Stir not from it for you can have no better rule than it.

We can also turn over the Torah of life, and challenge our assumptions continually. The time of the ten days is for that. Understanding the assumptions of others and finding our own, even the ones we think of as facts, is a challenging but rewarding exercise. It prepares us for the next stage of the process, acknowledging what we did wrong as we come up on Yom Kippur, where all doughnuts and assumptions are to be cast aside.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Rosh Hashana 5771: Where the Book Am I?

It's that time again for the High Holidays or Days of Awe depending on what you want to call them, and instead of being prepared for them, I am not feeling very spiritual lately. A big part of that is something that I have hinted at almost every year, but never said outright: I hate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Many of my reasons are pretty common reasons for not finding this a very spiritually connected holiday, though these days are meant to inspire Awe and be the most connected. On my list is the changes in prayer space. Then there is the pretty morbid liturgy. Third is all the extra people, and the need for tickets. Finally there is the theological problem.

It is at this time of year I tend to think of Abraham Joshua Heschel's essay The Spirit of Jewish Prayer Originally a speech to an assembly of Conservative Rabbis, who he called a mere "master of ceremonies" in the speech, many decades later it still rings true:
We have developed the habit of praying by proxy. Many congregants seem to have adopted the principle of vicarious prayer. The rabbi or the cantor does the praying for the congregation. In particular, it is the organ that does the singing for the whole community. Too often the organ has become the prayer leader. Indeed, when the organ begins to thunder, who can compete with its songs? Men and women are not allowed to raise their voices, unless the rabbi issues the signal. They have come to regard the rabbi as a master of ceremonies. Is not their mood, in part, a reflection of our own uncertainties? Prayer has become an empty gesture, a figure of speech. [Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, 101-2 ,Google Books]

I feel that way every Rosh Hashanah. I know I'm supposed to get dressed up, grab my tickets, tallit and machzor, go to synagogue and pray. Yet the prayer is hollow and empty. The environment of prayer changes so much it is hard to pray. The Netana Tokef tells us we are supposed to be praying as one of the three things necessary be written into the book of life, but it never feels like the fervent prayer such effort requires. It's more like a night at the opera. The cantor is at full voice and talent, and the rabbi is so remote as to be on another planet. All warmth and fervor is replaced by cold prayers performed by a choir and cantor. I do not pray, I watch a performance of others praying for me.
Unlike the weekly Shabbat services, there are hundreds of people I have never seen except at this time. Also dressed in their finery, they seem little interested in the ideals of communal prayer, but fulfilling a yearly obligation, outdressing their neighbor, and socializing with everyone else who doesn't show up except this time of year. Why things are the way they are is that these paying customers seem to expect it to be that night at the opera, and synagogue financial survival depends on them showing up. This has been my experience since I was old enough to be in the same sanctuary as my parents for the holidays, in Conservative, Reform and Renewal synagogues. I can never forget the Kol Nidre service when I was twelve. I was almost thrown out of Kol Nidre for not being an adult paying customer. If my father hadn't made a huge stink, I would have spent Kol Nidre in the same dark parking lot I spent most of Rosh Hashanah in. Like Heschel mentioned over forty years ago, this is not one synagogue I'm talking about, but a systemic problem.

I written many times before about my view of this time theologically. Traditional images have us judged and placed in the Book of Life or the Book of Death. On Rosh Hashanah we are inscribed in the book we belong, and our destiny sealed at the close of Yom Kippur. I have had a different view. There is only one book, our Book of Fully Living. The question of Rosh Hashanah is not if we will make one list or another, but if we will fill our pages with fully living. What this season is about is for us to get ourselves oriented and set up for a year of fully living.

In my current infatuation for boats, it might be good to think about this season more like a boat. Every so often, the boat needs to come out of the water, and undergo thorough maintenance. Painting, cleaning, overhauling the engines, replacing the lines and even removing barnacles are all tasks which make our sea adventures so much more rewarding, and assures us that we will not run into trouble in the future. So too with the holidays. It is our time to connect with God and clean the spiritual schmutz from our souls, and replace the worn out parts . We do this through three things: Prayer, repentance and the righteous deeds.

Yet this year as we approach the High Holidays, I feel none of those three as I have apparently entered a spiritual crisis. My disconnect from the way most people do prayer, particularly during the holidays is one of the biggest problems with this. Many of my assumptions this year I've been led to question, many I have found no answers for. Even without answers, a lot of illusions have been shattered lately. It has left me wondering far too much. I'm not as spiritually connected as I once was, and wondering what that really means. I have a spiritual vacuum in my life. Where I am and where I am going seem totally unknown. I am sailing in dark waters on the moonless night of Rosh Hashanah.

I do not know what will happen this week, and how attending services at two different congregations will go. I have an idea of how I'm going to get out of this, and I'll write more about that next week. I realize I don't hate the holidays of course, I just strongly object to how they are observed. most especially how we pray.

But let me wish you all a L'shana Tovah, a good New Year, and may you have another full, rich chapter in the Book of Fully Living.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5770: Letting Go

I feel really sorry for God and Moses this week. It's something I've never thought about before, but it hit home by watching a car commercial.

This week we read:

15 See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil, 16 that I command you this day to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances; then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God shall bless you in the land when you go in to possess it. 17 But if your heart turn away, and you do not hear, but are drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; 18 I declare unto you this day, that you will surely perish; you will not prolong your days upon the land, when you pass over the Jordan to go in to possess it. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your descendants; [Deuteronomy 30]

There has, of course been a lot of discussion and commentary about this passage for centuries, but I want to take it in a direction which fits the season. Not Rosh Hashanah, but back to school season.

This is the time of year that many parents have to struggle with themselves, especially if it is their first born and they have no experience. For some parents in this season, it may be first grade, for some high school, and for some college. In the commercial I saw, there is another annual event that brings terror to parents everywhere: giving the car key for the first time to their child. I was in a restaurant at the time so I didn't get the dialogue, but the visuals had me in tears. A young girl, maybe four years old, was strapped into the driver's seat of her dad's car. She apparently was asking for the car keys which her dad, who was looking through the open car window at her was very reluctant, giving her a lecture on safe driving. Eventually he gave the car keys, not to her, but to the 17 year old who is really behind the wheel. The point is clear, many parents have a hard time letting their children grow up, seeing them as the little child they once were. It is very hard letting them go to have their own adventures and lives. Most importantly, many parents want to protect their children, and letting kids go off on their own loses the ability to protect. Granted the world is dangerous, but one needs to let go.

This is true in any relationship. To be in a relationship means you care about the other person, and do not want to see them hurt. One will do anything to prevent the hurt. I've been there myself so many times. I know a lot about where I live and some of the places I frequent. I'm aware of some possible problems in the world around me, and it just about kills me to keep my mouth shut, and let someone walk into them. Yet, I have to keep my mouth shut. It kills me I cannot prevent the disappointment ahead, but it is not for me to control another person. Indeed I may hurt them more by interceding, since they will not learn.

For forty years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites were controlled and coddled. Food was provided by Manna. Drink by miraculous wells. Every time the people got into trouble, Moses would save them. With the impending death of Moses and the entry into the land, this is about to change. One very good reason that Moses was not let into the land was the same reason parents are often not allowed into schools the first day of class -- it would stifle the student.

We have to risk. We have to do the wrong thing and suffer the consequences to learn why we do the right thing. God knows this and Moses, though crushingly wanting to see his people in the land and happy, also knows that going in with them will stifle them and they will not learn the lessons they need to learn. Learning is failing and then correcting. It is teshuvah. Yet, we often care so much we don't want those we care about to fail. Think how heart breaking the ultimate version of this is: A child unable to perform for forty years, unable to leave the house without supervision. Even then they will get into trouble. To let them go after forty years would be devastating. That is what Moses must be feeling as he rattles off much of the book of Deuteronomy. Yet here, the people are given the choice of the blessing or the curse. It is theirs to decide, the point as crushing as handing that car key to a new driver for the first time. The people need to grow up.

And when we hand that key to the driver there is only one thing one can say:

19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, so that you may live, you and your descendants;

We can only tell the driver to choose to drive safely. We cannot choose for them to drive safely. Yet here, it is the people of Israel, it us, who is asked to drive safely. Here, we are reminded of that choice. We can be careless or we can be careful with the mitzvot. We can make mistakes then we can do teshuvah to correct the errors of our ways.

I remember how scary that time was when I first got behind the wheel of a car. I remember how scary it was the first day of to Kindergarten, first grade, Junior High, High School and College, Each one was a step away from my parents and I stood with the responsibility on not only keeping myself safe, but the responsibility of keeping others around me safe -- particularly in that car. We are asked by Torah this week to take our responsibilities deadly seriously, not because we need to be obedient, but that someone cares about us.