THE TORAH PORTION FOR THIS SHABBAT 2 ELUL 5780 and 7 PM SHAZOOM August 21, 2020
KETIVAH V’CHATIMAH TOVAH
- Of David. The Eternal One is my light and my help;
whom should I fear?
The Eternal One is the stronghold of my life,
whom should I dread?
- When evil men assail me to devour my flesh—
it is they, my foes and my enemies, who stumble and fall.
- Should an army besiege me, my heart would have no fear;
should war beset me, still would I be confident.
- One thing I ask of the Eternal One, only that do I seek:
to live in the house of the Eternal One all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Eternal One, to frequent God’s temple.
- God will shelter me in God’s pavilion on an evil day,
grant me the protection of God’s tent, raise me high upon a rock.
- Now is my head high over my enemies roundabout;
I sacrifice in God’s tent with shouts of joy,
singing and chanting a hymn to the Eternal One.
- Hear, O Eternal One, when I cry aloud;
have mercy on me, answer me.
- In Your behalf my heart says:
“Seek My face!”
O Eternal One, I seek Your face.
- Do not hide Your face from me; do not thrust aside Your servant in anger;
You have ever been my help.
Do not forsake me, do not abandon me, O God, my deliverer.
- Though my father and mother abandon me,
the Eternal One will take me in.
- Show me Your way, O Eternal One,
and lead me on a level path because of my watchful foes.
- Do not subject me to the will of my foes,
for false witnesses and unjust accusers have appeared against me.
- Had I not the assurance that I would enjoy the goodness of the Eternal One
in the land of the living…
- Look to the Eternal One;
be strong and of good courage!
O look to the Eternal One!
ְPARSHA – Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9
Shof’tim [(שֹׁפְטִים – Hebrew for “judges/magistrates”)]
- Laws regarding both sacred and secular legislation are addressed. The Israelites are told that in every dealing they should pursue justice in order to merit the land that God is giving them. (16:18–18:8)
- The people are warned to avoid sorcery and witchcraft, the abhorrent practices of their idolatrous neighbors. (18:9–22)
- God tells them that should an Israelite unintentionally kill another, he may take sanctuary in any of three designated cities of refuge. (19:1–13)
- Laws to be followed during times of peace and times of war are set forth. (19:14–21:9)
The parashah provides a constitution — a basic societal structure — for the Israelites. The parashah sets out rules for judges, kings, Levites, prophets, cities of refuge, witnesses, war, and unsolved murders.
Professor Gerhard von Rad of Heidelberg University in the mid-20th-century argued that the ordinances for standardizing the cult and establishing only one sanctuary are the most distinctive feature in Deuteronomy’s new arrangements for ordering Israel’s life before God. Von Rad cited Deuteronomy 12; 14:22–29; 15:19–23; 16; 17:8–13; 18:1–8; and 19:1–13 among a small number of “centralizing laws” that he argued belong closely together and were a special, later stratum in Deuteronomy. Von Rad argued that these texts indicate that Israel’s cult had become completely lacking in unity, celebrating at former Canaanite shrines intended for Baal. The instructions to centralize the cult sprang from the conviction that the cult in the different country shrines could no longer be reincorporated into the ordinances of a pure faith in God. Jewish educators Sorel Goldberg Loeb and Barbara Binder Kadden wrote that Von Rad saw the Book of Deuteronomy and the discussion of sacrifices in particular as a way of getting the Israelites back on track, as the Israelites had been influenced by other nations whose worship habits did not coincide with the Israelite belief system.
Isaiah 51:12-52:12 is the fourth haftarah in the cycle of seven haftarot of consolation after Tisha B’Av, leading up to Rosh Hashanah. This year Rosh Hashanah begins in four weeks on the evening of Friday, September 18, 2020.
STRUGGLING WITH TORAH
Shof’tim – magistrates
We are now in the midst of the earliest section of Devarim, Chapters 12–26, containing the Deuteronomic Code (sometimes abbreviated Dtn).
Last week, we read an interpretation of Devarim and the ceremony of blessings and curses at Mounts Gerizim and Ëbal by Rabbanit Dena Freundlich of the Midreshet Lindenbaum. In short, for her the ceremony constitutes a giving of the Law to the new generation of Israelites about to enter the Promised Land. She concludes the message is that Matan Torah (revelation/giving of the Torah) is alive, dynamic, personal, and ever evolving. https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-real-message-of-mount-gerizim-and-mount-ebal/
Some scholars claim Devarim was written about the time of King Josiah (c. 640-609 BCE), and others at a later date, either during the Babylonian captivity (597-539 BCE) or during the Persian period (539-332 BCE). Many scholars see Devarim as reflecting the economic needs and social status of the Levite caste. This week we are looking at what was happening during that period of Jewish history, and if Rabbanit Freundlich’s interpretation makes sense.
If what Professor Gerhard von Rad cited earlier and other scholars say is right, the core of Devarim was written in the mid-7th century BCE, between 600 to 800 years after the events it purports to record (the Exodus is dated anywhere from 1440 BCE to 1200 BCE). It contains elements that reflect practices that had already become standard by then such as the organizing of the judicial/civil system and the waging of war. It also appears to include elements that were added as the result of the destruction of the Temple, the Babylonian Captivity, the return from exile, and the reforms of Ezra the Scribe and Nehemiah’s governance somewhere between 480 and 440 BCE.
Josiah was the sixteenth king of Judah, the great-grandson of Hezekiah, another noted and respected reformer. By Josiah’s time pagan cultic practices had made their way into Israelite religion, in part thanks to his grandfather, Manasseh, who was one of the kings blamed for turning away from the worship of Adonai and adapting the Temple to pagan practices. The Temple in Jerusalem had been built more than 300 years earlier by King Solomon (c.1000 BCE).
In general, scholars think the “Book of the Law” found in the Temple and “authenticated” by the Prophetess Huldah, is an early predecessor of the Torah which was invented by Josiah’s priests, who were motivated by ideological interests to centralize power under Josiah in the Temple in Jerusalem. It appears that in order to convince the Israelites to accept these reforms, they used something called an argument from/appeal to authority. That is, they attributed its authorship to Moses, who all apparently agreed to be the most reliable and ultimate teacher.
In ancient times, even up to more “recent” times, it was common practice to attribute important writings to well-known and respected figures and/or to use ancient words and grammar to convey a sense of antiquity. Doing so enhanced the messages being conveyed rather than making them suspect. While solely illustrative and not a direct equivalency, the discovery of the “Book of the Law” reminds me of the story of Joseph Smith’s discovery of the “golden plates” which he translated and published as the Book of Mormon with the purpose of restoring a religion that in his and others’ view had “gone astray” in the course of over 1800 years.
If the premise is accepted that this was written by Moses on the eve of entering the Promised Land, then Rabbanit Freundlich’s interpretation makes lots of sense. In my opinion, it still makes sense in light of what scholars say about Devarim. Without going into why now, I agree with her conclusion that Matan Torah is alive and an ongoing process.
The authors may have had their own reasons and motives for writing Devarim and attributing it to Moses. However, like any significant literary work, it has taken on a life of its own and has had an impact far beyond its literal words. In this case, it reveals ethical and spiritual values that apply to today such as found in Deuteronomy 16:20 of this week’s Parsha.
One of the most famous quotes from this week’s Parsha is Deuteronomy 16:20: “Tzedek, tzedek tir’dof (צֶדֶק, צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף) Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Tzedek can also be translated as fairness, righteousness, or integrity. For me, it goes hand-in-hand with compassion.
Rabbi Ari Kahn in an article found at Aish.com says, “Justice must be strived for, not only on a national level but on an individual level, for there is a Divine reaction to man’s handiwork on the individual level as well. And just as a nation may lose focus of the spirit of the law, so may the individual.” (https://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/48930397.html)
Justice begins with our selves – and why compassion is a part of this. We need to examine ourselves and ask, “Do I treat with justice: Myself? My spouse or partner? My individual family members? My friends? My neighbors? My colleagues or associates? My fellow congregants? My customers or clients? If so, how? If not, why?”
Regardless of significance, if it’s big enough to bother you, it’s big enough to repair. So, what of those who are apparently shameless and live as if they are completely and utterly guilt free doing whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want? For those who believe in Karma, there is an answer. For those who believe in Divine Justice, there is another. For those who believe in neither, there are the obvious as well as hidden consequences of such behavior – some immediate and some long-term – and I do believe that in all cases, small or large, amends are ultimately required.
For those of us who observe the High Holy Days taking them seriously, the opportunity to make amends as a community and as individuals is provided in a safe and face-saving way. Despite the importance placed on competition, which has its benefits, it is actually harmony and cooperation that go furthest in advancing and lifting up society as a whole and us as individuals. To me, the High Holy Days with both their communal and personal prayers and rituals represent and express that harmony and cooperation.
HIGH HOLY DAYS
As explained before, Temple Kol Hamidbar has decided this year to forego providing either in person or online Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Services.
However, we will have a Shazoom Service for Shabbat Shuvah on Friday, September 25, 2020, and a special Zoom gathering after Yom Kippur to Break-the-Fast at 6 PM on Monday, September 28, 2020. The Break-the-Fast online event will include sounding a Shofar recently donated in memory of Samuel Klein, a Havdalah service, and a chance to schmooze and nosh virtually with members of our community.
To help make the High Holy Days as meaningful as possible, the Union for Reform Judaism and various congregations within the Reform Movement are providing free online services and resources during the month of Elul and the High Holy Days to anyone interested in participating. As a result, Temple Kol Hamidbar is providing the following websites for individuals to access. You may need to visit them more than once for their latest information.
Temple Emanu-El in Tucson, AZ https://www.tetucson.org/
Temple Sinai in Oakland, CA https://www.oaklandsinai.org/
The Union for Reform Judaism https://urj.org/
We recite MI SHEBËRACH for the victims of brutality, abuse, fear, natural disasters, pandemics, violence, and war; for all those in need of physical, emotional, and mental healing. “R’fuah sh’lëmah” – a complete recovery!
We say KADDISH YATOM for those of our friends and families who have died and been buried this last week; those in the period of Sh’loshim (30 days since burial); those who have died in the last year; and those whose Yahrzeits/Anyos occur at this time; as well as the victims of brutality, disease, natural disasters, war and violence. We remember, too, those victims of the Shoah (Holocaust) who died at this time of year and have us to say “Kaddish” for them. “Zichronam liv’rachah” – May their memories be for blessing.
SHAZOOM: ONLINE SERVICES – 7 PM
All are encouraged to have on hand Shabbat candles, wine/grape juice for Kiddush, and Challah for Motzi for the blessings during the Service.
Making sure you have the latest version of Zoom, please join us online this evening:
Topic: Erev Shabbat Service
Time: Aug 21, 2020 07:00 PM Arizona
To join Zoom Meeting click on the following link [you may need to copy it into your browser]:
Or from Zoom go to join meeting and enter the following information:
Meeting ID: 725 1050 0854
Hint: The last character of the password is the number zero.
Or, you may also access Erev Shabbat Services directly through the Temple Kol Hamidbar website at https://templekol.com/
Ketivah Vechatima Tovah,
Shabbat Shalom – Buen Shabbat!