This week we begin to read the final book of the Torah, called devarim, “words”. The entire book consists of Moshe’s parting words.
The Israelites will soon cross the Jordan River, under the leadership of Joshua. Before the crossing, a moment of reflection: Moshe is reminding the Israelites of where they came from, and how far they have come. Over and over he will urge us, remember your ancestors, and what they did; remember your forebears, and what they taught.
As we face the challenges of our lives, it may help to consider that, whatever we are facing, there is a good possibility that either we have been in a similar situation before, or that our friends, our colleagues, even – yikes – our parents, may have, and may have the wisdom of experience to share. None of us need ever be alone in a stressful situation. As Jews, we are told this over and over again: you are part of a community that remembers, that seeks to learn from experience, and that holds before it an ideal against which we measure ourselves, our experiences, and our beliefs.
Our starting point is the belief that life is a gift, and that it is not enough to be grateful. We have a responsibility as receivers of the gift of life, to respond out of that gratitude, and ask what is my obligation? what do I owe to Life, having been given life? The answer, of course, is to become the best life-form we can be: to be open always to learning, to pray and meditate upon that which is learned, and to practice loving kindness at all times.
It is easy to understand a teaching when one agrees with it; it is easy to pray and meditate when one is serene; it is easy to do kindness to those we like or feel sorry for. But our obligation to uphold our ethics is no less when it’s difficult – rather, that’s where we find out what we really believe, and what we really worship. It is in the face of anger, frustration, stress, and fear that we discover what we’re really made of.
On this Shabbat we are challenged by a special haftarah to consider how we are doing. This special Shabbat is called Shabbat Hazon – the “Shabbat of vision”. The vision is that of the Prophet Isaiah, whose words supply our haftarah for this Shabbat. On this Shabbat, consider his words as they echo in your life and the life of our People:
21 How is the faithful city become a harlot! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her once.
22 Your silver is become dross, your wine mixed with water.
23 Your leaders are rebellious, and companions of thieves; every one loves bribes, and follow after rewards; they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.
24 Therefore says our G-d, the Mighty One of Israel: Ah, I will ease Me of Mine adversaries, and avenge Me of Mine enemies;
25 And I will turn My hand upon you, and purge away your dross as with lye, and will take away all your alloy;
26 And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counsellors as at the beginning; afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.
27 Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return of her with righteousness.
Evil, whether done by us or by others, will not endure, if we are committed to its end. This is the vision that we are called upon to believe in and to make real through our words and our acts. On this Shabbat, consider your own power to create a more just world in every small act, in every situation, and that real justice will only come from finding within ourselves a willingness to learn also from those whom we don’t like, to pray and to meditate upon our acts and our attitudes when we are not serene, and to practice kindness with those from whom we recoil. Such behavior can only come from constantly reminding ourselves, in the moment before crossing from a word to an act, to consider G-d’s command to us to, at all times, to
and walk humbly with G-d. (Micah 6.8)