Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayelech

On Rosh Hashanah, I spoke about the need to understand that multiple truths co-exist. Truth is about perception. We all know what we know, and often, we know it so well that it is nigh impossible to believe that someone else’s thoughts could possibly be true.


In our current climate, we do this to each other with religion. We do this to each other with politics, economics, and every realm that requires us to invest ourselves in accepting a path or a rationale for how and why things happen. This behavior is not new, but it is a whole lot more pervasive than it has ever been.


Faith, however, is supposed to protect us from this spiritual alienation and segregation. Faith is supposed to remind us that we are common travelers, sojourning together through life seeking greater wisdom and greater understanding. Thousands of years ago, our sages understood that we need each other. Aesop wrote the fable, “The Four Oxen and the Lion.” A lion attack for oxen, but every time he got close, they turned their tales to each other’s so that from whichever direction the lion attacked, it met Oxen horns head on. Even the lion is no match for the powerful blow that the horns delivered. The oxen stayed safe this way. Over time, though, the oxen bickered about who was the strongest and bravest. Their spirited teamwork fell apart as a result of their failing respect for the dynamism that they collectively held for survival. As the lion approached, he could attack each from the rear or the side. A lion is far more agile than an ox. One by one, each ox became the lion’s meal. Together we stand, divided we fall.


This same parable finds its way throughout scripture and the folklore of every civilization. It is the focus of a large piece of this week’s Torah portion. We read that every seven years, we are supposed to stop working the land. Instead, we must focus our attention on spiritual growth; personally and communally. The land will continue to produce food, but for that one year, the fruit is fair game for anyone. Even while Torah counsels us on ethical business practices helping us financially secure the future for our families, it also reminds us that ultimately, our existence is a spiritual one, not one rooted in material possessions. We get to earn and grow our estate for six years, but every seventh, we need to take a step back and concentrate on reprioritizing our efforts. For that one year, we are not rich or poor. We are not privileged or challenged. Everyone has equal access to the food grown in any property throughout the community. We are one community. “Ahm echad eem lev echad – One people with one heart.”


After the sabbatical year, the Priest is supposed to gather everyone in the community and remind them of our unity and commitment to each other (read what Torah says about this) so that as we get back into earning our keep and growing our wealth, we will always stay mindful that we have an obligation to everyone in the community.


We are spiritual beings living material life experiences. How many of us end up feeling so unfulfilled in life because of the things we don’t have? How many of us defend positions to the point of argument to avoid having to face the reality that there may be more we don’t know; don’t possess? How often do we prioritize protecting what we have, even at the expense of growing who we are … or who we can be?


Moses is about to pass the leadership role to Joshua. A new era will begin. We are about to leave last year behind and enter a new opportunity to redefine who we are and who we want to be. What we know for sure, is that we need each other. We can fool ourselves some of the time into thinking that we are self-sufficient, but in every facet of life, we need someone else to help give life extra value. Let’s begin the new year affirming this truth, and let’s get back to growing from and with each other’s blessings. Shabbat shalom.