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Peering into the Future – Va’etchanan

July 31, 2009

Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11) is the parsha this week, and a wonderful one. There are many themes in the various commentaries I read, most centered on the repetitions of the Sh’ma that are found here. Also featured is Moses’ review of the history of the Jews up to this point. Moses also reviews his pleading with G-d to be permitted into the promised land. G-d was angry and said no; allows him only a peek at the land from the top of the mountain telling him you will not cross the Jordan. And of course we know that he dies with all the others of his generation in exile and only the next generation inherits the land as G-d promised. Tangentially, I may be a slow learner but I never realized that this is where the gospel verses about “going over Jordan, going over home” and “water is wide, can’t cross over” and a million other gospel songs come from. Duh; those in exile yearning to be free. I love the book of Deuteronomy, there are so many things in this book that resonate and have become familiar in our cultural history. “Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a might stream” (Martin Luther King) is one such example. But back to the point, as Moses is recounting he says to the people, in essence, G-d gave you the Torah, what are you complaining about. For it is in the commandments, which are repeated in the parsha, that we are bound to G-d. In doing G-d’s will we find a connection to G-d. Life is a connection to G-d and when we use our life for good we are connected to G-d and to the gratitude we should have for the life we have been given. I have a friend who is very sick, waiting for a transplant, has cancer and lung disease and yet he is grateful almost all the time for the time and the gifts he has been given. Amazing, and so… as stressed and tired and sick as he is, he is serene, just waiting for the next thing. It is a beautiful thing. In this portion, connected to the commandments is the familiar V’ahavta prayer which centers, in its most fundamental, on the concept of l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. G-d tells us that it is our most important mitzvah, good deed or commandment, to teach our children and our children’s children. Of course reading this, I focused on my teenage son who seems to have no faith at all. He said his prayers as a child with perfect consistency, we lit the candles and attended temple and shared our life cycle events. He completed Hebrew, had a beautiful Bar Mitzvah, was confirmed and still seems to have no connection to G-d. I don’t think I am alone in this, I think this happens to teenagers all the time. I wonder will he remember the beauty of those Shabbat candles, the familiar cadence of the prayers and how we were together in those moments when he leaves our home? Will he open his mind to faith as he makes his way; I have no idea. Will he seek out other Jews when he is on his own? I have written before about the comfort of ritual, but young adults spreading their wings don’t always need or want it, or find it useful. I have followed the commandment, I have performed the mitsvah, I have taught him as well as I knew how, learning myself all along the way. My parents have no faith, so how I came by mine is hard to say. I know I am near to my bubbe when I practice my faith, and near to those who perished in pogroms whose blood I bear. And so l’dor v’dor, I have done the best I can to make being a Jew an honorable thing. As he stands on his mountain, peering into the promised land of his future, I know he is afraid. He is afraid to be different, to stand out. I hope when he is afraid the Sh’ma will come to him as it did when he was a tiny boy, and comfort him by its familiarity. I hope he will find self-esteem in the doing of mitsvot, good deeds for the sake of helping others and not for recognition. I hope he will find identity in the company of good Jews. Mostly, I hope he will find that connection to G-d so that he will never be alone, no matter which side of the river he finds himself on.

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