August 15, 2019


8.16.2019 Weekly Torah Portion

Parshat Ve’ethanan 

Two weeks ago, I danced with compassion. It was a sacred sort of dance – an exercise in calling forth a part of myself sometimes hidden behind a history of fear. There were 14 other people in the room all waltzing, tangoing, salsaing – awkwardly – all to get in touch with parts of themselves that they kept hidden in the shadows. It was really, really weird. And it was profoundly moving. It was a sacred moment created in mutual vulnerability, among the hidden parts of ourselves and among one another. It was an event, an experience, an acceptance that can change my life if I let it.

As I’ve learned from Rabbi Mark, there is an important question after such a transformative experience, whether it’s dancing with one’s own shadows, or hitting rock bottom, or a “Godshot.” The question is: how will you, how will I, stay loyal to the experience?

In Ve’ethanan, this week’s parshah, Moses speaks to the Israelites as his leadership of the people is ending. They will enter the Promised Land, and he will not. He will gaze on it only from across the river. At this moment of ending and beginning, with admonishment, and longing, and even resentment, Moses beseeches the people to remember: “Take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live…. You came forward and stood at the foot of the mountain. The mountain was ablaze with flames to the very skies, dark with densest clouds. Adonai spoke to you out of the fire; you heard the sound of words but perceived no shape—nothing but a voice” (Devarim 4:9,11-2). You, my people, had this moment of profound insight and connectedness. Stay loyal to it.

What have you seen with your own eyes? To which moment, to which experience, do you need to stay loyal? A moment in court, in jail, in your addiction? A moment with your children, your parents? A moment of profound vulnerability?

These moments are, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches, “rare events.” And we choose how we respond to them. “To some people they are like shooting stars, passing and unremembered. In others they kindle a light that is never quenched” (God in Search of Man, p.132).

Remembering and staying loyal, keeping the light alive – these are active choices. They are choices of faith – a faith, emunah, that I can handle what comes my way, that I don’t have to do it alone, that my individual story is part of a larger Universe story. And that faith can change me if I let it. It changes me by keeping me in recovery, becoming one grain of sand better each day, even and especially on the days when I’m uncertain or isolating or disconnected. It reminds me that the original experience was the beginning of something – the rest of my changed life.

And should we lose sight of the moment of insight, the profound experience, even of faith itself, Moses reminds us and the Israelites: “God will not forget the Covenant which God made an oath with your ancestors (4:31).” In other words: God will remember you. God is in this relationship with you, even when you forget. Across time, across space, across generations, God is in this relationship with you no matter what. And you are not alone. God has faith in you.

The question Moses puts to the Israelites is the question put to every generation that studies Torah, and it’s the question put to you and me: You’ve had the Godshot, the experience, the aha moment. Will you choose faith?

Rabbi Kerry Chaplin