Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Eikev

I remember preparing my first research paper in high school. Ms Lily Fulton (my all-time favorite teacher) told me that quoting one person is plagiarism while quoting many is research. She taught me that citing one source was not contemplative or creative. If one source is the sum total of one’s thought, the writer stagnates and learns nothing. One has to do the research through various sources in an effort to get a variety of thoughts on any given subject. The writer’s job, then, is to absorb and synthesize the material in an effort to either create an original thought or justify affirming an alliance with the ideas of a previous writer. I still love that lady!

Why does fake news proliferate? It happens because people will take the very first source they read on a given subject and presume that the writer is/was an expert with all knowledge and beyond scrutiny. We stopped conversing over the things that we read and started blindly throwing them at each other.

So many people sit frustrated in front of computers, tired of the rhetoric being thrown at each other. When there is something important to share, we often miss it because of the noise that encapsulates all communication.

I cannot stop thinking of the Prophet Elijah’s encounter with God. Amidst all of the noise, the Prophet could discern God’s “kol demama dakah- still small voice.” These words pose an even greater impact given the bridge between last week’s Torah portion and this one. Last week, we read of the command to pay attention, “SHEMA-Listen!” This week, the first line from Torah commands us to not only pay attention, but to process what we hear. “It will be because you listen and pay attention and create with the teachings given to you that God can honor the blessings sworn to your ancestors.”

There is no Hebrew equivalent of the English word “obedience.” We translate the commands to pay attention or to do as obedient, but this understanding really is a theological misnomer and short cut. There is no sense of command in our tradition. Even the word “mitzvah” really best translates best as “strong ethically based suggestion to be unpacked and interpreted.” Our entire faith tradition roots in the need for engagement. We celebrate the volumes of diverse commentary that exist on single phrases of text. We teach, “Aelu v’aelu divrae Elohim Chayim – these words and these words are both the words of the living God.” We are not robots. Even giving due to those voices trying to devolve everything God into one myopic rule, if God had intended for there to be one point of view, certainly that “god” could have made it so.

Maybe this is why I get upset, and not just annoyed, when I see all of the bombastic rhetoric out there – from either side of any polarizing argument. People do not take the time to listen, research, or think for themselves. When someone disagrees with them, they default to screaming that the other person’s listening skills failed. So, not only don’t we listen, but even when we do, we get accused of not listening if we don’t change our mind to agree.

Maybe it’s time to open the Bible again; to pay attention to what it has to teach us. It teaches us not to be literal (even in reading it). It teaches us to listen and engage. It teaches us to wrestle with what we hear and to grow from the engagement. Most importantly, it teaches us that society can only function when each of us commits to all of the above, while at the same, holding dignity for everyone else doing it, in the highest regard. I know, radical thought, we don’t have to agree to respect each other. Shabbat Shalom.