To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

- Ecclesiastes 3:1



At some time or other, we all have suffered disappointment.  This poem reflects how we can find peace in our despair, thereby turning something seemingly negative into a soul enriching experience. -Brian

by Tony Hoagland

I was feeling pretty religious
standing on the bridge in my winter coat
looking down at the gray water:
the sharp little waves dusted with snow,
fish in their tin armor.

That’s what I like about disappointment:
the way it slows you down,
when the querulous insistent chatter of desire
goes dead calm

and the minor roadside flowers
pronounce their quiet colors,
and the red dirt of the hillside glows.

She played the flute, he played the fiddle
and the moon came up over the barn.
Then he didn’t get the job, -
or her father died before she told him
that one, most important thing-

and everything got still.

It was February or October
It was July
I remember it so clear
You don’t have to pursue anything ever again
It’s over
You’re free
You’re unemployed

You just have to stand there
looking out on the water
in your trench coat of solitude
with your scarf of resignation
lifting in the wind.

"Disappointment" by Tony Hoagland from What Narcissism Means to Me. © Graywolf Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission.

Dear Friends,

Our Torah portion this Shabbat is the combined portions Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30). These are the last parshiot we read prior to the welcoming of the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) which begins this coming Wednesday evening, September 24.

The opening section of Nitzavim is one of my favorite passages in Torah. Moses speaks to the community and reminds them, “You are standing this day, all of you, before Adonai, your G-d” (29:9). All of you refers to every member of the community, from those who are its leaders to those who fulfill the most menial of tasks within society (29:9-10). No one is excluded, no one is marginalized, all carry the same responsibility and are as integral to the strength and vitality of the society as anyone else. We stand together, even those who cannot physically stand, those whose voices are often too soft to hear and those who by some arbitrary distinction of age, gender or socio-economic factors are deemed by the delusional as “not worthwhile.”

We stand together and we stand before the presence of the Sacred. And when we allow ourselves to recognize this common and holy bond which links us as creatures of the Most High, then this day will have profound importance, for it will speak of a fellowship of humanity we have yet to recognize.

This is not a tiresome, hackneyed, hollow proclamation. Rather, it is a challenge to us and to those we will teach and who they will teach. This covenantal bond is transgenerational: “Not with you only do I make this covenant...but also with those who are not here today.” (29:13-14) What we do, how we understand our commitment to one another, like the pebble tossed into the pond, will have ripple effects for generations to come.

Moses was 120 years old when he offered this message to the entire community. And yet, he did not rest assured that all in the assembly understood his words as a personal plea to each of them, so he then went from tribe to tribe reiterating the message again and again. (31:1) This aspect of his journey is where Vayelech opens.

Imagine the scene: an elderly person whose physical infirmities make his mobility difficult (“I can no more go out or come in.” 31:2) and yet he yearns to be heard and he has important life lessons to share. How often the infirm are made to feel invisible because they are only acknowledged for what is seen rather than who they are and what insights they have to offer.

A 92 year old woman shared with me her frustration that an aide hired by her children to assist her physical mobility treated her as if her mind were as limited as her body. When I asked her what age she emotionally felt, how she thought of herself, she responded immediately: 45!

I was so taken by her answer, and even more so by the smile it brought to her face, that I started to ask the same question of other individuals who chronologically had reached the ninth and tenth decades of their lives. The overwhelming majority spoke of an emotional age less than half that of their chronological years. Some women whispered to me with a giggle that they thought of themselves as teenagers or twenty somethings. And when each responded, his/her eyes lit up and a renewed vigor could be heard in their voices.

If we are to stand together, to be responsible for and to one another, we need to take the time to listen, to share and to work at fashioning a community where all feel respected, where all can offer whatever is in their ability to contribute, where all will know that they are heard.

In the last section of Torah which is not read on a Shabbat, but rather on the holiday of Simchat Torah and is entitled, Vezot Haberachah (Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12), it is said of Moses, “ (he) was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his natural energy abated.” (34:7) We have much to offer one another and much to learn from each other. But only when we find the will to stand together will we really be able to experience the fullness of what it means to be a holy people, a sacred community.

As we approach the New Year of 5775, I want to thank each of you for allowing me to stand with you as we have explored the challenging message of Torah, the difficult journey of making each day count for good.

I have decided that the conclusion of 5774 is a good place to conclude my weekly Torah reflections. I want to acknowledge and thank my wife, Linda, who has served as faithful editor and disperser of these D’vrei Torah for many years. All told, we have shared these now for more than twelve years.

It has been my pleasure and honor. My study of Torah, and I hope yours, will continue and I look forward to face-to-face encounters with many of you where we can continue to talk Torah together.

As each book of Torah concludes, I share with you these words for continued wellbeing, “Chazak, Chazak, V’netchazek.” “Be strong, be strong and may we continue to strengthen one another,” this day and every day.

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah,

Dear Friends,

Our Torah portion this Shabbat is Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8). The preponderance of this parsha focuses on the blessings and curses which will affect the community depending on the choices which they make in their lives. Like the small stone tossed into the still pond, the initial disruption of the calm can seem dramatic, but it is the ever-widening ripples which create a longer and lasting impact.

Earlier in Deuteronomy, a foundational aspect of Jewish faith is offered to the community, "Hear, Oh Israel, Adonai is our G-d, Adonai is One." (6:4) This is not only an affirmation of a monotheistic belief, it is also a unifying principle of the Oneness of G-d and the ultimate striving toward a wholeness through all creation. The human response to this pronouncement is first and foremost to hear it, to still oneself with a mindful awakening to that which is beyond the noise of human self-absorption.

In this week's parsha, that admonition is reiterated: "Keep silence and hear, Oh Israel, for this day you have become a people to Adonai, your G-d." (27:9). How might we understand the meaning of "this day?" Surely, it can not only be a historical reference to a past event which occurred generations ago and is memorialized through an annual communal reading.

Rather, we need to hear a more profound message. If you take the time "this day" to spend moments in reflection and hear the sacred call, then you will be worthy as an Am Segulah (a Divine Treasure, 26:18). Each action, each decision, carries consequences with it, some minor, some profound, yet all impacting on how we see ourselves and will be seen by those around us. This day, each of us has a choice; this moment we can choose to act in ways which will affirm the blessings in life or will bring hardship on ourselves and others.

The recitation of the parsha's listing of blessings and curses is preceded by the drama of the entire community standing in a valley between two mountains (27:11-14) and hearing their leaders intone these admonitions. After each iteration, the community was obliged to say, "amen" (in essence, "we agree"): to pervert justice due to the stranger, the orphan and the widow is wrong (we agree); to hear the warnings and not to heed them is wrong (we agree)... but if you will hear the sacred message of what it means to be a treasure to others and to the Other, then you will experience blessings in your life. To this, the people also responded, "Amen." We agree. This day, like each and every day, the choices are presented to us. Will we take the time to hear and thereby make our lives a blessing or will we forsake the warnings and be faced with consequences which will impact on our lives and the lives of others? This day the choice is ours.

Shabbat Shalom,


Dear Friends,

Our Torah portion for this Shabbat is Ki Tetze (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19).  It continues with precepts which address the basic nature of human interaction:  that self-preservation needs to go hand-in-hand with our concern for the well being of others.  There is a corrective element to some of these regulations.  As if speaking to the troubling nature of inheritance which created such discord within the Genesis narrative, our parsha (21:15-17), stipulates the rights of the firstborn.

The underlying message of these few verses has lasting significance for us.  We are reminded that the sacred nature of the text rests upon its ability to offer guidance through the often rocky terrain of human perception.  The sacred has an evolutionary nature.   We are called upon to ask ourselves, "Do these admonitions continue to speak to the moral health and vitality of a just society?"  In essence, our obligation is to reexamine these precepts in light of the changing nature of human intercourse.

In sharing this view, I am drawn to the visual image of a moment in Jewish communal worship when in the midst of the recitation of the Kedusha prayer, the physical movement when intoning the three-fold repetition of the word, Kadosh, (Holy) is to lift oneself on tiptoes as if to say, "as I strive to affirm the sacred nature of life, I am reaching higher, reaching out to the Other."   The beauty of life and living is that nothing stays the same.   We cannot rest on our laurels.  We cannot hide behind the misguided notion that tradition and the sacred are one and the same.  Our traditions link us to the generations who came before us.  Yet if we wish future generations to affirm those traditions, we need to live our lives and hence teach them that the encounter with the sacred is dynamic and not stagnant.

The power of this dynamism rests in the willingness to work through the challenging nature of our interaction with others.  If our precepts underpin the sacred nature of our lives, then they (and we) should be able to withstand the questions and challenges that manifest themselves in our relations with others.  At the same time, we must not hide ourselves from the discomfort and obligation which are at the very heart of our discourse in this complex world.

The parsha addresses this when it deals with the nature of lost property (22:1-3).  We are instructed to see our neighbor's property as something which needs to be protected and hopefully restored to him/her.  The Torah uses the imagery of physical property: an ox or a sheep which might wander away from the herd.  One's moral obligation is to not hide oneself from the responsibility of helping in the return of the wayward animal.

The Hebrew, translated as "hide oneself," can also be understood as "disregard" or "deny."  In that context, we are admonished not to deny or disregard our obligation to the well being of others.  If this is true about physical property, then we need to apply the same principle to intellectual property: the opinion of others.

We live in a discomforted world in which discourse has been disregarded and the willingness to hear others opinions often denied.  Hiding ourselves from that which is different, not feeling a sense of obligation to protect the beliefs of others because those beliefs are not our own, allows the intolerance to human discourse to escalate into extremism:  those who offer different opinions will not only be disregarded, they will be executed, they will be silenced.

If we truly find strength in the values which we hold sacred and if we believe that the holiness of those values rests within their dynamism, then we cannot hide ourselvesfrom protecting the rights and well being of others who wish to live with the sacred nature of life which they attempt to affirm:  a respect and dignity offered to every human being.  To hide from this challenge is to leave the door ajar for the extremism that not only disregards diversity but is bloodthirsty in wishing to wipe it out.

Shabbat Shalom,