Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayeilech

A journalist assigned to the Jerusalem bureau takes an apartment overlooking the Wailing Wall. Every day when she looks out, she sees an old Jewish man praying vigorously. So the journalist goes down and introduces herself to the old man.

She asks, “You come every day to the wall. How long have you done that, and what are you praying for?”

The old man replies, “I have come here to pray every day for 25 years. In the morning, I pray for world peace and then for the brotherhood of man. I go home, have a cup of tea, and I come back and pray for the eradication of illness and disease from the earth.”

The journalist is amazed. “How does it make you feel to come here every day for 25 years and pray for these things?” She asks. The old man looks at her sadly, “Like I’m talking to a wall.”

In a similar vein, every year, as approach a New Year (secular or religious), we make the same resolutions and commitments. We are going to lose weight, save more money, attend synagogue more often, drink less, etc. We swear before God that this year, we will really make the effort! I have to wonder how often God rolls God’s eyes as we approach every year with the same commitments, knowing how our resolve quickly waned the previous year. Still, God keeps coming back for more, joining with us in our hope that this year, it will finally happen.

Eternal hope is wonderful. Whether it is the sage praying every day, or God hoping with us every year, I love that our faith traditions teach us that we are all prisoners of hope. Judaism provides us with some “proofs” that the gates of repentance never close and that as long as we breathe, we have the opportunity to continue our evolution from chaos to light. We celebrate Yom Kippur and its opening prayer, Kol Nidre. The prayer effectively says, “God, all the vows that I make from now until next Yom Kippur, if I give it my best, but I fall short, please forgive me.” All the vows – including all the New Year resolutions and all the “I’m sorry, and I will do betters” we will utter. We expect to do a little better each year. We expect God to have reasonable expectations of us.

The Talmud (Berakhot 7a) demonstrates a conversation with God, wherein God tells the sage how God prays, “May it be My will that My mercy may suppress My anger, and that My mercy may prevail over My [other] attributes, so that I may deal with My children in the attribute of mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice.” We expect the source of all good in the world to have endless patience.

Additionally, this week’s Torah portion provides us with a reminder of our promises. God instructs Moses to teach the Torah to all the people that they will own it and internalize its teachings. The goal God wants to achieve? “In order that this poem may be My witness against the people of Israel.” (Deut. 31:19). We have to write our own Torah so that we can be held accountable for the promises we make. Who will hold us accountable? The goal is that we will keep ourselves in check. The text does not say that we are to sit in judgment over each other. Our behaviors are between God and us, and, if correct, God will keep the door open, so long as we try.

So, if our best efforts, though often less than perfect, stand to be good enough for God, how is it that we judge each other harshly and dismiss each other’s dignity because we somehow feel that another doesn’t measure up? Who gave us the power or right to “LORD” over another? Even while the text speaks of having dominion, nowhere does it suggest that one life on earth is subservient to another.

If It is good enough for God to respect us even when we fall short, to hold the gates open for us, to continue engaging lovingly – it seems to me we need to rethink how quickly we judge and dismiss each other – especially when someone who fails in our eyes does so only because our expectations or answers were off-kilter, to begin with. Go to someone you have judged harshly and ask for forgiveness or a chance to rethink your discomfort with each other. Let’s get into the trenches and change the course of how we communicate with each other. Let’s make peace happen. Shabbat Shalom.