Vaetchanen - weekly Torah portion

In this week’s portion of the Torah we read, “Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: ‘Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully.’” We learn here several things the first of which is that Moses calls upon “all Israel” and therefore he talks to the entire People, women and men, old and young. When the Torah refers to men alone it knows how to do so explicitly and clearly but here, all are called to listen to Moses.

We also find here three demands; a demand to hear, a demand to learn and a demand to observe. We must realize that this is exactly the opposite to the נעשה ונשמע (we shall do and listen) that we have read about in the book of Exodus. Here the order has reversed and a demand was added, the demand to learn. It is not blind obedience that is required, a senseless obedience that has no value or meaning. It is necessary to listen, then study and only then observe. Listening after doing is merely a technicality, the deed has been done and in most cases neither our heart nor our mind is opened to sincere listening, to really understand what it is that we need to do.

This Shabbat is also the first Shabbat of comfort after Tisha B’Av and the three weeks before it. In the Haftarah we read, among others, the words of the prophet Isaiah, “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley’”. I would like to suggest to you today that clearing the way that Isiah is speaking about is exactly the opposite of the doing and listening proposition we read about in Exodus and has everything to do with the words of Moses to the Israelites on this occasion. It puts the order right again, listen, learn, observe. When we do things in the right order the way is easy, straight, and leads us to our target. When we do it out of sequence then, naturally, the likelihood of mistakes significantly increases, and we should not wonder that we will listen only after the fact that we have made a mistake.

In this context it is that we also need to understand “all Israel” – Moses calls upon everyone to gather, he does not separate, he does not divide, he does distance. All are called to come and join and listen to what he has to say. Everyone had the opportunity to study and then to observe. Isiah demands, “Lift up your eyes on high And see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, Not one of them is missing.” Here to, just like in the Torah portion of this week, there is a realization that everyone is included and all should be included.

Yesterday 25 thousand men and women marched in the Jerusalem Pride March 2017. Like in every year one could find there also many representatives of our Movement, rabbis, our youth and members of our congregations. It is fascinating to see the influence our Movement has on the religious aspect of the LGBT fight for rights in Israel which now also brings people from the Orthodox communities realizing that it is time to speak up and be inclusive, and walk this march that cost the life of Shira Banki who was stabbed to death two years ago. The manner by which some attempt to push out of the community others because of a sexual orientation, a different kind of Sidur, or the way a synagogue is laid out, the singing by one gender or another, or the cognitive abilities or disabilities, must perish. “He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, Not one of them is missing.” It was the orthodox poet Zelda who so beautifully wrote, “Each of us has a name / given by God / and given by our parents… Each of us has a name / given by our enemies / and given by our love… Each of us has a name / given by the sea / and given by our death.”

It is unfortunate that death was part of the Pride March where an innocent youth was murdered by an incited person. One who has done but never bothered to listen. Yet we cannot and should not cease marching, making the rough ground plain where everyone can be part of the march, together and with pride. There are still mountains to flatten and valleys to fill, especially with the postponement of the decision on the right of gay couples to adopted children in Israel. This is a joint march where we have to work the rugged train so that we become all inclusive, each and every one of us, with not even “one of them is missing.”

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 13 Av 5777, 4 August 2017

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