It is hard to imagine that over a dozen years have passed since the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina and Rita, and 16 years since 9/11. Surely it can be no coincidence that here, a decade later, parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech once again falls on the heels of a pair of devastating hurricanes, Harvey and Irma. Once again, I find my theology evolving, changing, adapting. Ten years ago, I wrote about my evolving theology by sharing two previous musings – one written before 9/11, one written just after 9/11, and a few additional words added in 2005. Last time, I put them in reverse chronological order. This time, I’ll do the opposite –putting them in chronological order,adding some thoughts from this year at the end. Along the way, you’ll not only see the changes, evolution, and cycles in my philosophies and theologies, you’ll also notice the progression in how I choose to write the word G”d.
Random Musings Before Shabbat - Vayelech 5759 God's Sabbatical
Now that I'm a student at a theological school, critical analysis of biblical text is almost automatic. God said to Moshe that he would soon "lie with his ancestors" and that the people of Israel would go astray amidst the alien gods of the land they were about to enter. Knowing what comes later in the story, one can easily conclude that these words were written after the fact, which of course is problematic for some who view Torah as mi-Sinai. (I personally have little trouble with reconciling critical analysis of the text with religious faith - in my faith view, divine revelation and human effort coexist peacefully.)
In the narrow and historical view, we know the "land you are about to enter." But in reading this text, I began to think in broader terms, longer timespans.
God is dead. God has forsaken us. How could God let the Shoah happen? Views that get a lot of attention these days.
What if we are still in those times that God was referring to. Times when we fall prey to belief in alien gods (like money, computers, vanity, television, etc.). Times when we forsake God and break God's commandments.
Times when we break our covenant with God.
During such times, God tells us, God will flare up angrily, and hide from us. (So, it seems God, too, uses the "silent treatment" when displeased.
Boy, I hate that from anyone. I'd rather just have a nice, good old confrontation and have it over with than deal with the silent treatment
In God's words one can just as easily see a description of the times we live in, and many other times in our history. Maybe, from the time we crossed over into Canaan, we really have been living amidst alien gods and forsaking the covenant our ancestors made with God.
Was there ever a better reason for t'shuvah, for a return to God's ways, and a renewing of the covenant? It's time to bring God back from sabbatical.
A former father-in-law wrote an essay in which he mused on the apparent absence of God during the Shoah. God's answer to my questioning relative in this story was that God had a lot to do and was simply busy elsewhere at the time. (Does omnipresence and omniscience have limits or is that oxymoronic?)
Perhaps instead God is still flared up in anger against us for our having gone astray, forsaking the covenant, and is still hiding God's presence from us. Now, I am not about to even suggest, as some unfortunately do, that the Shoah is punishment for liberal Judaism, or that the Shoah was any kind of judgment or punishment by God. But there is little doubt in my mind that throughout much of our history, we have shown the truthfulness of God's prediction in Vayelech. We've turned our backs on God so God is turning God's back on us.
Pray, pray really hard and with sincerity this Yom Kippur. Do t'shuvah. Keep Shabbat. Try and live your life in keeping with (your understanding of) God's commandments and covenant with us. A little bit here and a little bit here. Do the best you can. Maybe, just maybe, if we all work really hard, we can get God to take a peek and see that we really need God's help, now more than ever.
Random Musings Before Shabbat - Vayelekh 5761 - The Time Is Now
It is rare that words fail me. Last week, I was in such I stupor, that I did not even have the clarity to write all of you a message stating that I was in a stupor and unable to write anything for my Random Musing for Nitzavim 5761! It was all I could do to stay focused enough to get my first day of religious school at my new congregation started last Sunday.
I have yet to come to terms with what happened on 9/11/01, and even now it is difficult to find words.
Three years ago, I wrote a musing for Vayelekh that doesn't work for me anymore. In Parashat Vayelekh, we are told that Gd knows the people Israel will stray after they enter the land, and that Gd will visit some form of retribution or punishment upon them for their transgressions and failure to follow Gd's commandments.
I posited that perhaps we are still in those times, and that throughout history Gd's anger with us has flared up, with one result being the "silent treatment." It was "Gd's Sabbatical" as I called that musing.
"Perhaps instead Gd is still flared up in anger against us for our having gone astray, forsaking the covenant, and is still hiding Gd's presence from us. Now, I am not about to even suggest, as some unfortunately do, that the Shoah is punishment for liberal Judaism, or that the Shoah was any kind of judgment or punishment by Gd. But there is little doubt in my mind that throughout much of our history, we have shown the truthfulness of Gd's prediction in Vayelech. We've turned our backs on Gd so Gd is turning Gd'sback on us."
However, in the days following 9/11/01, I feel that Gd has been more present than ever. We see it in the countless acts of unselfish charity and giving of assistance. We see it in thre martyrdom of passengers on a hijacked plane now lying in a field in Pennsylvannia. We see it in the coming together of communities, of ecumenical camaraderie. We see it in our almost universal determination as the human race to remove the scourge of terrorisim from our midst. A cause that even Gd seemed to take up, once upon a time, with the great flood. We see it, also, in the cries of those who caution us against an application of the lex talionis, (the eye-for-en-eye concept) urging us not to callously attach innoncent people just because they happen to live in a country that harbors terrorists, or just because they happen to be a Muslim or of Arabic descent.
In my previous musing, I took great pains to distance myself from those who might view the Shoah as punishment from Gd for Jewish transgressions, just as I now equally refute the blasphemous pronouncements of Jerry Falwell and others on this same subject in reference to 9/11/01.
However the fact remains that, as Jews, as the human species, we still leave much to be desired. We still ignore Gd, ignore Gd's commandments, sometimes, even as we make a great show of our religion and faith.
When we were slaves in Egypt, it took a lot of hue and cry to get Gd's attention. (And even after we were freed, many of us complained we were better off in Egypt as slaves!) Is is that we don't cry out enough these days?
Dear Gd, what does it take to get your attention, to get you to return from your apparent sabbatical? The crusades, the inquisition, the pogroms weren't enough? The Shoah wasn't enough? September 11, 2001 wasn't enough? Or was it? I have seen a spirit in this country, among my friends, Jew and non-Jew alike that I have not seen before in such numbers. Might this not be a sign that perhaps that Gd who neither slumbers nor sleeps but watches over Israel always is awake, and no longer (if Gd ever was) on that sabbatical?
Last year, I wrote about what I think is the real denouement of the Torah, 30:19-21, where we are told that the Torah exists to be a witness against us in our sins. L'eyd B'vnei Yisrael.
Has she not been witness against us long enough? We have the potential, here, now, in this time and place, to reclaim this relationship with Gd, to have the Torah be not witness against us, but rather we as witness for the Torah, and for Gd.
As I wrote last year:
"For is it not obvious to us all by now? Light from dark. Day from night.
Land from water. Sacred from profane. Blessing and curse. A witness against our transgressions yet the freedom to interpret that very witness ourselves.
We have come full circle from creation.
May this New Year be a year when we all dedicate ourselves to making ourselves witnesses FOR Torah, rather than allowing Torah to be a witness AGAINST us.
It is all around us-this new found spirit of determination to remove evil from our midst, but also the caution to do it in a just and righteous way.
This righteous spirit to care for those in need, to console the bereaved, to honor the memories of the dead and keep their memories alive. Opportunities abound for us to do righteous deeds, to be charitable.
During these days of awe, what better time to reflect on this opportunity,what better time to really bring ourselves to do t'shuvah-to return to Gd. To walk in Gd's ways and follow Gd's commandments.
Ken y'hi ratsoneinu. May this be our will.
Vayelekh 5765 - The Time Is Still Now
Back in 1998 I wrote a musing for Vayelekh entitled "G"d's Sabbatical." Then in 2001, still rebounding from 9/11 I wrote a new musing entitled "The Time Is Now" in which I spoke of some discomfort with what I had written in 1998.
Oddly enough, once again rebounding from the tragedies that have befallen us with Katrina and Rita (and all other tragedies around the world) I find myself swinging like a pendulum towards more of the viewpoint of the 1998 musing. Somewhere between the two viewpoints is a synthesis of how I am feeling. Thus I share both with you, in the hopes that we can all try and synthesize something useful out of them. (P.S. You can observe the continuing evolution with how I deal with writing G"d. G"d is my most recent choice, as I like the idea of using the quotation marks to represent the yud-yud abbreviation for Ad"nai-it does say to me that when I write G"d I do specifically mean that G"d that is known to the Jewish people as Ad"nai.)
(I placed the entirety of the 5659 and 5761 musings here.)
Nitzavim-Vayelekh 5777 – Witness For (or Time Cycle)
Torah as witness against us, or we as witnesses for Torah. It’s not a clear choice, it’s not an either-or option. As in some many things in life, so many things in Judaism, we need both, and we must seek a balance between them. We will be judged (in whatever fashion it suits you to understand that concept) against the standard that Torah sets for us.
I recognize the slippery slope represented by the idea of Torah as witness against us. It presumes that our failings as human beings, as a society, as a nation become justification for G”d to punish us. That’s only one small step away from the onerous ideas that have been floated around by religious people of all faiths to explain natural disasters. Blame the gays. Blame abortion. Blame people who aren’t like us. Blame the liberal Jews. Blame the Muslims. That way is simply madness. It violates the most basic principle of v’havata l’reiakha kamokha – love your neighbor as yourself.
On the opposite side, it’s easy to blame global warming, and all the negative effects of humankind’s attempt to wrest control of our universe from the universe itself. Or we can blame nature for being unpredictable. Even with all our science, predicting a hurricane’s path still eludes us a bit. Nature and the universe laugh in our faces.
Blame all you will, it is not enough. Only action will make a difference. We decry what is happening to our planet, but few of us willingly make the changes and sacrifices needed to make a difference. “Other people will do it,” we rationalize. One person can’t make a difference, and one person won’t tip the balance. Newsflash, folks. If most people believe that, we’re doomed.
Just as Torah can be a witness against us, our planet, our universe can be a witness against us. If we aren’t careful, if we don’t think about the consequences of what we do, if we don’t work to mitigate and reverse the damages we cause, then our planet, our universe will witness against us – in disasters we can’t even imagine. So is Torah really all that far off with its analogous ideas?
I don’t see Harvey and Irma as retribution or punishment for anything, but I am easily convinced that our rape of our planet is one cause and effect behind increasingly more severe and deadly storms. Our planet is witnessing against us. It is time for us to step up and witness for our planet, for ourselves, for Torah.
May we be written and sealed for a good year.
May we write and seal ourselves for an even better year.
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah
©2017 (portions ©1998, 2001 and 2005) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Nitzavim 5776 - Hiatus End - Lo Bashamayim Hi (Redux 5757ff)
Vayeilekh/Shabbat Shuvah 5776 - Cows and Roses
Nitzavim 5775 - Lo Bashamayim Hi (Revised Classic from 5757)
Nitzavim-Vayeilekh 5774 - Even Lola Doesn't Always Get What She Wants
Nitzavim-Vayeilekh 5773 - Opening Our Own Hearts
Nitzavim 5772 - Where or When?
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5770 - Flawed, Schmawed
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5769 - Disconencting the Reconnecting the Dots
Vayeilekh_Shabbat Shuvah 5769 - Cows and Roses
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5766 - Keep Looking
Vayelekh 5765-The Time Is Still Now
Nitzavim 5765-To Lo Or Not To Lo
Nitzavim/Vayelekh 5763-Connect the Dots
Nitzavim 5757/5759/5764-Lo Bashamayim Hi
Nitzavim 5758-Not By Ourselves
Nitzavim/Vayelekh 5760/67-L'eyd B'vnei Yisrael-The Real Denouement
Nitzavim 5761 was the week of Sept. 11, 2001. There was no Musing.