7/26/2013

Shabbat Ekev

Candles Friday, July 26th 7:58pm
Havdalah July 27th 8:52pm

The Torah continues, this week, with Moshe’s long oration to the Children of Israel before he dies. In it he highlights the issues that he thinks are going to lead to a loss of faith and the danger that they might abandon their faith. Without someone as strong as he was to keep them together and to impose discipline, he feared they would fall apart.

Some of the words he uses are unusual. For example the Sedra is called Ekev after its second word. Literally it means a heel, like Yaakov holding on to the heel of his brother Esav. Here it means ‘consequence,’ like one step following another. There are consequences to our actions.

Rashi quotes the Midrash and says it means to suggest that if you can keep the small commandments , the ones we tend to disregard, those we metaphorically crush underfoot, then you will find dealing with the heavier, more demanding commandments much more easy.

That is so true. How often do I hear people say that they can accept the big issues, the existence of God, not to murder, to be kind to people. But they have no time for all the petty small rules of Judaism, restrictions on what to eat, keeping Shabbat. The sad fact is like any discipline, like keeping fit, like dieting, like treating people with consideration, the small details are important. Getting into a routine does make the harder stuff easier to cope with. Regularly having to control your ego in small ways helps get you in the routine so that you can control your ego on the big issues!

Moshe was a great psychiatrist as well as being a great leader.

7/19/2013

Shabbat VaEtchanan

Candles Friday, July 19th at 8pm
Havdalah July 20th at 8:55pm

Shabbat Nahamu

Moshe repeats the Torah at the end of his life. This week includes a second statement of the Ten Commandments. It is forty years since they were heard for the first time. In this version there are minor differences from the original in Exodus 20. Some might put them down to ‘senior’ lapses but the fact is that they all add an extra dimension to the original, while preserving the essence.

For example in Exodus it says “Zachor et Yom HaShabbat,” Remember the Shabbat. But here in Devarim it says “Shamor et Yom Hashabbat,” Keep the Shabbat. They are two different words but they supplement each other. To remember something without acting on it is clearly incomplete. To remember the Shabbat, shall we say intellectually as a good idea in theory, but not in action by actually keeping it, would be a sort of contradiction.

But why do we need two words when one might do? Very often human words are inadequate. We need, like coats of paint, to add layers to fully express our meaning. So it is with Torah. The written text often leaves things ambiguous. “Do not kill” for example makes no allowance for manslaughter or self-defense. That is why the Torah sometimes repeats using other words. It is also why the Oral Law fills in the blanks or helps clarify what is meant by the text.

When you read the text in the Torah this week and compare it with Exodus you will find other variations. Each difference between the two versions covers exactly the same ground but in a slightly different way. This all explains why Torah is such a complex text and why for thousands of years we have gone on interpreting and expanding it.