Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – D’varim

I can remember my Bar Mitzvah as though it was yesterday. It was the last day I set foot in a sanctuary as a minor. I came back a few times as a budding adult, but found the experience lacking in impact. As I entered law school, I tried investing myself in my roots and sought counsel from the Conservadox Rabbi who sent me on a spiritual goose-chase that ended up leading to only more disenfranchisement. He kept telling me to remember the joy of my Bar Mitzvah, and the only joy I remember was being done with it. Was it worth the time and frustration? Honestly, I did not remember for years … and even after my epiphany warranting my career change, I only have one tiny positive piece of the year’s process on which to hold dearly.

I do remember that the Torah portion for this Shabbat marks the 42nd anniversary of an event that brought joy into the hearts of those present and a great deal of relief to those who tried teaching me something. Of course, now I am a Rabbi, and the Rabbi and Cantor who presided over my ceremony left the Synagogue to sell real estate in the community (true story).

As I read this week’s portion, I cannot help but think about how much more the process could have meant, had I taken it seriously. The Rabbi and Cantor were not much help here, but my last minute tutor was. Dr. Graziani was a mensch. I have no idea what happened to him, but he started my rabbinic library. He tutored me for the last month after the Cantor had given up on me. Yes, I got through it … he must have been an amazingly patient man. He bought me three Jewish books. For some unknown reason (and I do not ascribe it to any premonition), I never got rid of those books through my several moves. I never figured out how much I appreciated his efforts until many years later … too many years to be able to find him to tell him so.

So, I read this week’s portion. Moses is beginning to retell the story of the Torah, as his personal ethical will (albeit a little lengthy and bitter). He is leaving instructions to the people; instructions that root in the lessons learned over the thousands of years of humanity. Even as he recounts the difficult pieces of Israel’s journey, he reminds them that God is supporting them (fighting alongside them) each step of the way. Throughout the Torah, we read of God’s promises of “protectzia” and still find the people often confused and in “faith denial.”

Moses begins his oration by reminding Israel that they do not appreciate the incredible blessings of salvation, redemption, or protection emanating from God. They do not appreciate the blessings of community that they share with each other. According to Moses, they lack hope. They lack direction. They lack accountability. Saying that Moses is frustrated with the people is an understatement. The people are frustrated, as well. On the one hand, they are a rabble bent on rebellion. They are skeptical and fearful for their future. This fear frustrates Moses. On the other hand, they have never done the “freedom” thing before. They have no idea what it means to be free. They do not have the tools or experience to begin to know how to appreciate either Moses or God.

We live in this “Catch 22” world. I have been the disgruntled rabble, not knowing or understanding the rules/restrictions imposed on my life and not appreciating the blessings around me every day. We have all been there … even if only because that is the definition of being a teenager (but this phenomenon is not unique to teens). We did not have the tools to know better, and those who taught us and cared for us showed amazing love and resilience in not dismembering us somewhere along the way.

I have also been the patient and resilient caretaker, teacher, parent, mentor. My patience has, as did Moses’, succeeded and failed over the course of time. Sometimes I feel the appreciation and sometimes I don’t, and sometimes it has nothing to do with whether I am or am not. We live in our perceptions. The only real difference that separates those of us with patience from those of us who are disgruntled is having enough experience to understand that folks do try to do the best that they can.

Whatever Moses’ experience, our tradition has come to appreciate his story and the teachings it breeds to the point that he is “Moshe Rabbaenu – our teacher Moses.” We appreciate him now, even while we did not back “in the day.” Our job is to pay the gift of his love and patience forward (even knowing that sometimes we will stumble, it is still our obligation).

We need to do a better job of appreciating each other; helping each other to be more appreciative. Some of us have broader life experiences than do others. People do not always respond to us as we would hope that they would, but we need always to respond to our best levels of kindness and compassion. I am blessed that there are people who taught me this lesson by the way in which they engaged me. I just wish that I learned it years before I did.

Dr. Graziani … in whatever dimension you exist, I guess you held this door open for me, exhibiting uber-patience and compassion with me all the way. I hope I can pay this gift forward. Shabbat Shalom.