Our Torah portion this week marks the beginning of Moses’ farewell sermon to people Israel and begins with the words:
“Behold I have set before all of you, (Plural) (the community of Israel) blessing and curse.”
Four weeks from now, the sermon will conclude in Parshat Nitzavim with the words: Behold I have set before you, (singular), today, life and prosperity; death and adversity. (Deuteronomy 30:15)
One significant, yet nuanced difference between these two texts is that this week the command Reah! is directed to the community as a whole and at the end of this sermon in Deuteronomy 30 it is addressed to each individual. The clear message of these two passages from Deuteronomy that begin with the command Reah, is the message that individual actions and interactions have an impact upon, not only our personal fate, but also our Communal destiny. This year, as learn anew Parshat Reah, amidst the on-going political turmoil in Israel, this farewell sermon of Moses makes me poignantly aware of the message of Deuteronomy that what “We The People” do or do not do has an impact on the individual lives of everyone in our worldwide Jewish community.
As President Isaac Herzog spoke before a Joint session of the United States Congress on July 19th, I heard in his remarks an echo of the interdependence of People Israel and the intertwining of People Israel’s responsibility to each other, and every Jews responsibility for the other, which is continually repeated message of Deuteronomy from chapters 11 to 30.
Moreover, President Herzog interwove into his remarks, on the 75-year history of The American Israel relationship, a number of references to how, We, The People of the United States; and We, People Israel; are intertwined and interdependent. Among his numerous references to how individual Americans and individual Israelis, have, for 75 years built the relationship between America and Israel was a reference to the meeting soon after Israel’s Independence between his grandfather, Israel’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Yitzchak ha Levi Herzog and President Harry S Truman. While one could hear the personal emotional reflection of having just sat down with President Biden in the same Oval Office, where his grandfather met President Truman, President Herzog’s point in recalling this meeting was much more than a reflective personal moment. It was an example of how interpersonal relationships between Americans and Israelis over the past 75 years have enhanced the communal relationship between their nations. We American Jews have played an essential role in the evolution of the relationship between America and Israel. As an American and a Jew, I believe I am inextricably linked and a full member of both People Israel and The American People.
In Both here at the beginning of Parshat Reah and the end of Parshat Nitzavim, the Torah continually pleads with each of us, and all of us, to choose life, by choosing obedience to God, in every aspect of our lives. The commandments that follow in our Torah portion Reah this week govern both our ritual responsibilities to God and our social and ethical responsibilities to our fellow human beings. As Jews, even though we acknowledge the existence of holy time and holy space we do not see the service of God as limited to any one time or one place.
According to rabbinic tradition, the first of Elul, which falls in the week ahead is the day Moses ascended Sinai for the second time. It is not only the time each year when we are commanded to begin our annual process of introspective preparation for the Days of Awe of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but a reminder, that as long as we live each of us and We The People are given the chance to change. This year I ask each of us to “Reah” looked again at these two verses with which Moses begins and end his farewell sermon to People Israel, and Reah see the month of Elul as our rabbis did as a pneumonic for the phrase “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine”. To me, as President Herzog taught in his address to The United States Congress, Unity is not the same of unanimity. In fact, the strength of Democracies, including America and Israel, lies in our strength to find space for Diversity under the tent of communal unity. The month of Elul is an opportune time for introspective self-reflection, on both a personal and communal level. This year, I “Reah” see this as the shared challenge of America, of Israel, and The Jewish People; be we residents of Israel or the Diaspora.
David Ben Gurion, whom I consider having been, the greatest Jew of the 20th century once said:
“Time works both for us and against us depending upon how we use it.”
This quote, which has hung above my desk for 50 years, defines for me the task which confronts Israel and America and each of us and all of us at this moment. See the possibility and cease the opportunity to re -weave the shredded fabric of our societies and use time to work for us, rather than against us in the year ahead by choosing the Mitzvah : V’ahavta Re- Echa Kamocha Love of our neighbor , over the sin of Sinat Chinam, the unwarranted hatred of our brethren.
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova