Nitzavim / VaYelekh -- Deuteronomy 29:9 – 31:30

American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once duly remarked: "One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes... and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility."

Life is a series of choices. And sometimes having to make choices may not serve us well, even if it appears that each choice in the series seems perfectly well suited to serving our concerns. In such cases, philosophers will say we encounter a "dynamic choice" problem. When there are too many choices spread out over time, how do you navigate them all? Too often, we see the results of poor choices include self-destructive or addictive behavior and dangerous environmental ruination.

I suggest that Torah has its own pragmatic dynamic choice theory which shines through in Parashat Nitzavim. As Moses makes clear: "It is not in the heavens… neither is it beyond the sea… No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it." (Deuteronomy 30:12-14). Moses is reinforcing the practical nature of Torah and its pragmatic application to a life well lived as he reaches his 120th year. As Moses gets ready to transition leadership responsibilities to Joshua, he concludes writing the teachings of Torah in an actual scroll, which is then placed for safekeeping in the Ark of the Covenant. This Torah scroll is meant to be read by the king at a gathering in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem every seventh year (during the festival of Sukkot and the first year of the Shmita cycle). The concern for continuity shines through in the pragmatic dynamic choice theory of Torah, which belies a deeper calling to responsibility.

Reading Parashat VaYelekh, we consider another kind of responsibility – that of memory. As we struggle moment to moment in our over-programmed lives to continuously remember a present called consciousness, we should heed the words of English artist and critic John Berger, who once observed that "the camera relieves us of the burden of memory. It surveys us like God, and it surveys for us. Yet no other god has been so cynical, for the camera records in order to forget."

Parashat VaYelekh reminds us to never forget the exemplary life of Moses, who reaches his 120th year fully active (even in his short-lived retirement!). Among his final acts recounted here, Moses announces the transition in leadership to Joshua and also concludes the writing of the Torah scroll, now entrusted to the Levites for safekeeping in the Ark of the Covenant.

Additionally, he explains that every seven years, during the festival of Sukkot, the entire people of Israel are commanded to "gather" together in the Jerusalem Temple in a rite that comes to be known as the mitzvah of hak’hel. The gathering is a sacred moment of communal assembly, one during which those present hear the king read from the Torah scroll. Yet alongside this injunction to gather and read together, there is the acknowledgement that the Israelites will inevitably turn away from their covenant with the divine. When this turning happens, they will experience an eclipse of the divine face, as it were, even though the words of Torah will never be forgotten.

Judaism is both a day-to-day spiritual practice as well as a legacy project never to be forgotten – our challenge is how to strike the appropriate balance amidst our overly-surveyed lives.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is inspired by Deuteronomy 31:18 ("And I will hide My face on that day…"). In his book, God and the Big Bang, Daniel C. Matt points out that "according to the mystics, [the Hebrew word for 'universe,' olam], derives from the same root as ‘hiding,’ he’lem." Matt describes our relationship with God as a "cosmic game of hide-and-seek," and asserts that "divine energy pervades all material existence." Here, an atom, the basic building block of matter, is seen partially obscured by a scrim or some substance. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

An Overview of Rabbi Glazer's Israel Trip

From Sunday, December 20, 2015 - Sunday, January 3, 2016, Rabbi Glazer will visit Israel to present some of his recent research, give book talks, study with renowned Israeli scholars, and participate in a program for college students.

7911984On December 24, he will teach in the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem's Winter Break study program, Ta’amu U’r’u – Taste and See. His session is titled “Beginnings Forever After: How do we understand the depths of beginning a relationship to Talmud Torah according to Kabbalah & Hasidut?”

Rabbi Glazer will also give book talks at two Masorti communities -- Neve Schecter, in Tel Aviv, on December 24, and the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem on December 31. His talk, "Is Jewish Thinking Possible After Auschwitz?," interrogates the (im)possibility of Jewish thinking -- and serious metaphysical thought at large -- following the essays of philosopher, pianist, and aesthetician Theodor W. Adorno. These two talks occur in conjunction with the Hebrew-language publication of Rabbi Glazer's A New Physiognomy of Jewish Thinking: Critical Theory After Adorno as Applied to Jewish Thought (Resling Press, Tel Aviv).

"The Zohar: East and West" international conference takes place December 28-30, with two days of sessions at Ben Gurion University, Be'er Sheva, and the final day at the Yad Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem. Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 3.52.39 PMCelebrating the culmination of Daniel Matt’s Priztker Edition translation of the Zohar, Rabbi Glazer will present his research on Tiberean Hasdisim's usage of Kabbalah. His presentation will be drawn from his paper, “Between Quietism of the 'Still Mind' & Merging in 'Ecstatic Kisses' In the Holy Land: Zohar as Hermeneutics of Contemplation in Tiberean Hasidism," which explores how the spiritual practice of quieting the busy mind can allow the practitioner to be more fully present and self-actualizing in their interactions with others. In particular, Rabbi Glazer considers how these ideas are expressed in the 18th century spiritual community of Tiberias and its application of the Zohar?

We wish Rabbi Glazer nesiyah tovah (good travels) and fruitful teaching and learning while abroad!

If you need pastoral services during Rabbi Glazer's absence, please contact the CBS offices; we have emergency clergy available in case of birth, death, or serious illness.

Rabbi Glazer Teaches The Zohar @ JCCSF

pid_21111This Fall, CBS invites you to learn with Rabbi Glazer at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco (JCCSF). In partnership with Lehrhaus Judaica, Rabbi Glazer will teach a nine-session course centered on The Zohar: Pritzker Edition.

The Lehrhaus Philosophy Circle, an engaging adult education series that studies texts from some of the greatest minds in Jewish thought, will explore the Zohar for the 2015-16 academic year. In honor of the completion of Professor Daniel C. Matt’s epic translation and annotation of the first nine volumes of The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, they will discuss selections from this groundbreaking work.

Matt describes the Zohar as “a challenge to the normal workings of consciousness [that] dares one to examine one’s assumptions about tradition, G-d, and self.”

In addition to The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, Vol. 3, all students should have A Guide to the Zohar, by Dr. Arthur Green. Green writes, “The Zohar is the great medieval Jewish compendium of mysticism, myth, and esoteric teaching. It may be considered the highest expression of Jewish literary imagination in the Middle Ages. Surely it is one of the most important bodies of religious text of all times and places.”

Working with Lehrhaus Judaica, Professor Matt has chosen the texts as well as the teachers of this exciting new series. CBS is delighted that Rabbi Glazer was tapped to teach the San Francisco course, and we encourage you to take advantage of the learning opportunity!

For more information and to register, please visit the Lehrhaus Judaica course page.