This is the time of year some parents are getting ready to send their (now adult) children off to college. We had that experience 4 years ago, and, although I expected the flood of emotions and memories, as we all prolonged our goodbyes, what brought levity to the situation was the last-minute instructions to our daughter - “don’t ride the train at night” (yeah, right), “please look 10 times before you cross the train tracks,” and whatever other silly things our responsible daughter needed not hear at that time. One last thing. Just a song before I go.
This week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, is rich with the treasures of the Torah: The Ten Commandments, the Shema/ V’ahavta, the familiar phrase, “V’zot Hatorah asher sam Moshe lif’nei b'nei Yisraei,” that we sing when the opened Torah scroll is proudly held high before the community.
This portion has much to study and from which to learn. It begins with Moses begging God to allow him to accompany the children of Israel into the Promised Land. Moses, until now the reluctant speaker, eloquently pleads his case but, this time, God holds fast and he will not be allowed to go. Realizing he will not be concluding the journey with them, Moses then instructs and implores his flock to heed the word of God, remember all they’d been taught, and to teach it to their children and their children’s children. Moses is known as the greatest prophet but he is not God. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, enduring external and internal struggles, he now must let go and have faith that the children of Israel are ready to embrace their future.
We study and chant Va’etchanan on Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Comfort, following the mournful communal observance of Tish’a B’av. Beginning at the age of 8, every summer at this time of year, which was also the end of my little league season, I’d begin High Holy Day Cantor’s club practice -- and, I couldn’t wait to go. Even as a little boy, there was something indescribable that would fill my soul, as we prepared for what, for me, was the Jewish World Series! I still feel the same excitement, but now with the much deeper awareness that we are entering a transition in Jewish time and purpose -- a time to begin the 7-week journey of self-reflection and introspection.
This past year has been very different and challenging. Countless conversations have centered on considering what we might have learned, and what we will bring with us into the future. How has the pandemic changed us? Will it illuminate a sustainable new path forward or will we choose to forget? Va’etchanan brings Moses’ pleas to the Jewish people, to every Jew for all time…
Please. Consider. A Jew must consider.