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

- Ecclesiastes 3:1


Dear Friends,

Our Torah portion this Shabbat is Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11).  The parsha opens with a continuation of Moses' first discourse to the community.  The emphasis shifts from the physical aspects of the journey to the spiritual dimensions of the unique nature of being a covenantal community.  The key question:  "What does it mean to be in relationship with the Other and with one another?"

As a rabbinical student, many years ago, I was fortunate to have many wonderful teachers.  Sadly, in certain cases, I only truly appreciated their teachings once I was a congregational rabbi and could reflect through my experiences on the practical lessons my teachers had been offering through the sacred texts we explored.  One teacher I think about often because when we were in class his tangential axioms seemed to distract from the textual material.  It was only as I experienced life that I realized that at every turn he had been using the text to offer life lessons.  Here is an example.  He used to say (a million times), "The job of a good teacher is to help his students remember what they already know."

I was reflecting on that axiom this week as I explored the parsha.  Moses offers this admonition to the Israelites regarding the importance of the obligations to be a covenantal community (4:9),  "take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live."  In essence, remember what you already know:  how to live a just and compassionate way of life.  The laws, the precepts and the obligations are not the goal, rather they are the means to a fulfilling way of life.

But, you already know that!

There is nothing new, nothing to be discovered as a "eureka" moment.  Rather, it is so much a part of you that a more literal translation of the text would emphasize it better.  Rather than "watch yourselves scrupulously," the previously cited verse literally means, "guard your soul more (very much) so as not to forget,"  in order to remember that living a meaningful, compassionate and just life is an inherent part of existing as a caring human being.

This reminder is then followed in the subsequent chapters of the parsha with the reiteration of the Ten Commandments and the underpinning of Israel's uniqueness known as the Sh'ma (6:4):  "Hear, O Israel, Adonai is our G-d, Adonai is One."   The verses which follow this statement of faith remind us how to affirm this each and every day:  by an awareness of mind, body and soul (6:5), by consciously reflecting on it throughout our waking day (6:6), by imparting the importance of this message to our children and grandchildren every chance we have (6:7), by binding ourselves to actions which will affirm the unique nature of being in relationship with the Other and with others (6:8-9).

When we are able to do this;  when we remember to do this;  then we give life to our souls, meaning and purposefulness to our existence.  This is what it means when the liturgical text asks that we be blessed with "m'chayai mayteem," the renewal of life for those who have forgotten how to live.

May we find a way to be good teachers to ourselves by remembering what we already know.

Shabbat Shalom,