Ekev -- Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

Facebook_CoverDesign_EkevWilliam Shakespeare once wrote, "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so." If a beneficent Creator created the world, is it merely a question of thinking that accounts for why bad things happen to good people? We are disturbed by such moral calculus.

This week’s reading of Parashat Ekev provides us with an opportunity to challenge this ethical rationalization. In continuing with his legacy speech, Moses’ address to the Children of Israel takes on the following tone: If you fulfill these commands, then (and only then) you will prosper in the Land of Israel. Moses also points to moments of collective backsliding – the Golden Calf, the rebellion of Korah, and the skepticism of the spies – not merely to point a finger, but also to offer an opening for the work of forgiveness by the Merciful One, a way to practice the power of return, known as teshuvah — a devotional posture all but absent from Greek philosophy. This spiritual practice of teshuvah is ongoing, and especially important as we approach the month of Elul that precedes High Holy Days. Within this description of the Land of Israel as "flowing with milk and honey," we also learn about the beauty of the "seven species" (wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, pomegranates, olive oil, and dates).

This week then is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how each of us comes to terms with, or questions, this moral calculus in the ongoing journey of our relationship to the divine.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is inspired by a passing mention in Parashat Ekev; we learn that the Israelites are aided in their conquest of the Promised Land by the tzir’ah. "And also the tzir'ah, the Lord, your God, will incite against them, until the survivors and those who hide from you perish." (Deuteronomy 7:20) Rashi and Nachmanides contend that the tzir'ah is a hornet, with Rashi further detailing that the insect "injected poison into [the Canaanites], making them impotent and blinding their eyes wherever they hid." Today, many frum naturalists assert that the tzir'ah is the Oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis), the largest hornet species in Israel and the species on which this illustration is based. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Elise Taubman's Bat Mitzvah

EliseShalom! My name is Elise Taubman and I am a 7th grader at the Brandeis School of San Francisco. At Brandeis, I enjoy taking electives on computer programming and discussing Shakespeare with my classmates in my English class. The best part of school is that I get to hang out with a great group of friends, some of whom I have known since kindergarten. Aside from school, I enjoy singing with the Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco and dancing at my dance studio. When I really want to relax, there is nothing better than spinning yarn on my Kiwi (my spinning wheel). Time with my family is particularly important to me and I enjoy spending Shabbat dinners and holidays, such as Passover, with my family.

Over the last year, I have been preparing for the occasion of becoming a bat mitzvah. I have gained much from my preparation and learned about the struggles of commitment and time management throughout the process. My parsha is Behar, in which G-d describes the rules regarding the Sabbatical years, the Jubilee year and land ownership, among others. I enjoyed reading the different interpretations of Parashat Behar, and particularly meaningful to me was the Jubilee section which acts to remedy entrenched poverty and to restore power to the voiceless in society.

This year in 7th grade, I have been working on my Tzedakah project, alongside my bat mitzvah studies. In this project, two students at Brandeis work together to learn about a charitable organization. My partner and I chose Mitzvah Corps, which provides Jewish high school-aged teenagers with an opportunity to travel to poor communities around the world. Teens connect and learn about those communities and donate their time to help with projects in those communities. From this project, I have learned much about how even teenagers can make a difference in the world and I am looking forward to participating in Mitzvah Corps once I am in high school.

I want to thank Rabbi Glazer, who took time to help me prepare for my bat mitzvah. I also would like to thank my tutor Randy Weiss and my Saba for helping me chant my haftarah, maftir, and Torah service prayers. Finally, I would like to thank my parents and siblings for their endless support and nagging. I needed all of it!

I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.

Ha’azinu -- Deuteronomy 32:1–52

va_thc_2006av3237_624x544There is arguably no greater farewell than the one William Shakespeare wrote in this renowned soliloquy from Macbeth:

"Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives.
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.
A bell rings I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
(2.1.33-61)

If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the noise of the stones revealing Macbeth's evil intentions as he approaches Duncan. It is this sound that cuts through the "present horror," that dreadful silence that emerges in the dead of night.

There could be no greater contrast between the tone of Macbeth’s soliloquy and that of Moses. Moses’ soliloquy is also delivered in verse to the Israelites on the last day of his life. Moses calls Heaven and Earth as his witness as he challenges the Israelites to really take to heart the continuity they are now a part of. Admonitions and warnings against the pitfalls of plenty and the apathy that emerges in getting too comfortable while living in the Promised Land.

As Moses ascends the summit of Mount Nebo in accord with the divine command, he is able to only glance at the Promised Land without ever entering it. Moses dies at the threshold, but his soliloquy overpowers any sense of “present horror”, that dreadful silence that emerges in the dead of night by ensuring the legacy is fulfilled by those who come after to uphold and transmit the Torah.

- Rabbi Glazer

Image credit: "Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1852–1917), as Macbeth in 'Macbeth' by William Shakespeare," by Charles A. Buchel, 1914