Re'eh: Deuteronomy on one foot

Tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh Elul. The countdown to Rosh Hashanah is really upon us and once again the world is in flux. Our parsha, Re’eh, finds our ancestors in a similarly challenging moment. It is a world of uncertainty, where our ancestors do not really understand what will happen next. All of Devarim is pedagogical. It is teaching a generation born in the wilderness who they are, what they need to do and preparing them for their world to come--preparing them to enter into the Promised Land. It is filled with blessings and curses, life lessons and reminders of what is truly important.

Our parsha is a microcosm of the book of Devarim. It opens with this powerful multisensory moment. Moshe reminds the people that they have choices in this world. (It is a lesson that we still need reminding). In the grammar of the first sentence we see the interaction between the choices of the individual and the community. God and Moses are telling EACH of us that we have choice, but also ALL of us that we have opportunities. In Jewish tradition, the individual and the society are inextricably linked. It is very, very hard to be a Jew in isolation. We NEED a community. We NEED to work together, b'yachad to fulfill the mitzvot and to live as Jews.

As a Conservative Jew, I have been fascinated at how my colleagues on the CJLS have worked to help us consider what is the purpose of minyan in the modern world. We MUST gather together for prayer-but HOW do we do that when we could not physically gather. (Side note--I’m reading and rereading the most recent teshuvot and look forward to discussing them with the ritual committee and any interested parties!)

Returning to our parsha, the blessings and curses are not just verbal, but are demonstrated physically. They are shown to the people in a way that all can understand, regardless of their intellectual or spiritual capabilities. We are warned of the challenges of success AND failure. We might imagine that only failure has challenges, but success does, too. I still remember an editorial in the Atlanta paper during the first tech stock boom. While it was from a Christian perspective of a devil in dialogue with God asking for the stock market to keep booming--since the newly wealthy were not thanking God but instead celebrating and commending only themselves. (Some things rarely change).

Also in this parsha is the verse that has traditionally been interpreted to speak against tattooing. It forbids us from mourning excessively and causing ourselves harm. OUr tradition has seen the dangers of excessive mourning. OF course, that raises the question of what is excessive mourning vs appropriate mourning? The DSM has its own diagnosis of complicated grief? While some of that you might speak with your psychologist or psychiatrist, your rabbi may have some insights, too. Judaism demands a mourning process. It acknowledges milestones of grief and demonstrates the nonlinear nature of grief. At the same time, it teaches us that we cannot live only in grief. We cannot freeze ourselves in time, but instead must push ourselves to be together, to pray together, to live together-even in loss. We cannot beat ourselves up physically or mark our skin permanently in memoriam. We tear our clothing rather than mark our skin or shave off all of our hair.

Re’eh reminds us of the laws of kashrut, of avoiding idolatry, of living in community, of caring for those less fortunate. It reminds us that even the land and debts need a break at times. Again and again we are reminded where we came from and where we are going. IN order to plan our futures, we have to know who we are. We need to be proud of our jewish identity. We need to support one another, lift one another up, celebrate together and mourn together.

Our parsha concludes with the sacred calendar we read on many of our festivals. It briefly discusses the essence of our holidays, reminding us that in an ideal world, three times a year we were to go to Jerusalem, go to the Temple. One of my favorite reminders there is that we are not to come empty-handed. We are to bring a gift of our talent. We are not to go bankrupt finding the perfect gift, but rather bring from what WE are good at. If we are successful farmers, we bring produce. If we are artists, we bring art. If we are get the idea. Here at CBI, the same is true. I’m excited for the work of our CBI board. It is amazing to watch people enthusiastically use their talents to better their community. You do not have to be on the board though to share your talents. You can bring your artistry, your wordsmithing, your compassion, your cooking abilities, your organizing skills, your environmental ideas, your technological skills, and yes, your financial talents to CBI.

As our parsha opened, directed both to the singular and plural you, so I see it ending. We need each and every one of you to make a difference here, now and in the future. Shabbat shalom!

My sermon can be found on video at:
(FYI: SciFi fans, I added a nice reference to the current Dr. Who in the spoken version.)