Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – V’etchanan

Yesterday, I turned 60. I did not wake up to anything new.

Despite reaching the milestone, I do not have any new aches or pains, no new insights than yesterday, and no discernible way to distinguish being 59 from being 60.

Perhaps the only significant occurrence that set yesterday aside was that it was also Tisha B’Av. On the 9th day of the Month of Av (on the Jewish Calendar), we commemorate the destruction of both the first and second Temple’s in Jerusalem, remember the expulsions from England and Spain, the beginning of World War I (Germany declared war on Russia on this Hebrew calendar date 1914), and the pronouncement of NAZI Germany’s “Final Solution.”

Today is Eid al Adha. The Hajj ends today, as Muslims remember Ibrahim (Abraham) sacrificing his son, Ismaeel (Ishma-el). Somewhere between the repeated attempts to annihilate my ancestry and the attempted slaughtering of children (remember, Abraham, did it to Isaac first), I turned 60.

Perspective is everything.

All that said, I am a prisoner of hope – and with good cause. As per the storylines, neither Isaac nor Ishmael dies. They go on to father great nations. The rabbis teach us in the Midrash and Jerusalem Talmud that it will be on Tisha B’Av that the phoenix will rise from the ashes and world peace (Messianic age) will vest. If I needed more soothing, this Shabbat is “Shabbat Nachamu – the Sabbath of comfort and rest.” The prophet Isaiah will remind us that there is always calm after the storm and to have faith. So, I guess there is hope for me – in life after 60!

That said, the above confluence of time and event and its connection to this week’s Torah portion move me. In the portion, we read the words, “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohaenu, Adonai echad – Listen Israel (people of faith)! Our God is God, and there is only one God.” By extension, one infers, “So, you pray to the very same God as everyone else.” “Choseness” is then about us choosing, not who God chooses. The next lines that remind us to love God with all of our hearts, souls, and being would fall empty if our absolute adoration went to an entity that picked and chose who should be loved and who should not.

So, I look at the history of pain and destruction and the hope for redemption. I have to believe that God is there with me – us. As the prophet Elijah learned, God was not in the whirlwind, in the earthquake or torrential fire and winds. We hear God in the Kol d’mama – the still small voice. God was not part of the Inquisition or Crusades. God was not in the threats to our children. God is not in COVID or AIDS. One finds God in the miraculous steps that lead us to redemption over and over again – and this is not about Jews. I speak to the plight of humanity. So many people suffer. In response, so many leave the comforts of their homes and jobs. They dedicate (sometimes years) to lifting people out from the throes of poverty and degradation.

One God speaks to the entire world, moving us to love God and everything God created with everything we have. For my birthday prayer, I just wish more and more would listen.

Shabbat Shalom!