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The Places of Our Lives #738

08/05/2022 05:49:04 PM

Aug5

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Devarim

“There are places I’ll remember,

All my life though some have changed

Some forever, not for better

Some have gone and some remain.”

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, 1965

The Places of Our Lives

 

We live in a time of miracles. 

How remarkable it is that we can text a friend or relative anywhere on the globe, and the message is usually received within five seconds or less.

How extraordinary it is to be able to travel across the country within a matter of hours, when perhaps only 150 years ago, that trip would have taken us days or weeks.

How incredible it is that we enjoy the freedom to visit the land of Israel with an ease that our grandparents and great grandparents could have never imagined.

Therefore, how revealing it is that every minute of every day, we possess the capacity to participate in a non-stop flow of information, conversation, facts, photos, and news - while simultaneously complaining about slow Internet or the number of functioning bars on our phones.

Indeed, we encounter miracles each day. The question remains, do we truly appreciate them as they unfold before us?

And so, as we begin our reading of the final book of the Torah, the Book of Deuteronomy – titled the Book of Words in Hebrew - it is time to review the journey of the Israelites from Passover to the Promised Land.

The Israelites are now one month shy of the 40th anniversary of their liberation from Egypt. As Moses approaches the end of his earthly days, he gathers the people to review where they have been, and what they have learned.

During the previous 39 years and 11 months, the Jewish people have solidified from a loose grouping of 12 tribes, into an often-imperfect, yet somehow-united nation.

This will be the Torah’s theme during the next few months, as Moses reviews past events and imparts wisdom for the future.

He begins with a retrospective of the miracles, challenges and locations the Israelites have experienced along the way: They have witnessed the parting of a sea, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the availability of manna.

But, true to Jewish form, with every step, there have been questions, challenges and complaints.

As Moses begins his final teachings, the theme of miracles comes up again and again.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, “One may see great wonders but remain entirely insensitive.”

Over the centuries, many rabbis have debated whether the Israelites truly realized how miraculous their deliverance from slavery to freedom was. Did they really appreciate the blessings bestowed upon them?

Do we?

Moses takes great pains in this week’s Torah portion to outline several stations that the Israelites paused at during their journey.

There were places of revelation like Mount Sinai. There were encampments where doubt, revolt and self-doubt festered. There were locations of supernatural phenomena, such as the parting of the Sea of Reeds.

In his comments about this week’s Torah portion, a colleague, Rabbi Marc Rudolph, quoting Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai, notes this about the Israelites’ incredible 40-year journey.

“From a distance everything looks like a miracle

But up close even a miracle doesn’t look like that.

Even someone who crossed the Red Sea when it split

Saw only the sweating back

Of the man in front of him.”

This phenomenal observation speaks to our lives today. Each day, miracles pass before us, but too often we are so busy keeping up with those in front of us that we fail to appreciate the glory of where we have come from, and the challenges we have overcome.

Our ancestors came to this country – most of them from Europe and Asia. Their initial encampments were small rooms and apartments. 

They roomed with relatives or rented from strangers, ultimately finding their own tent to dwell in.

Through hard work - often overcoming the stigma of being outsiders - they built rewarding lives.

Businesses were launched, degrees earned, families nurtured.

They persevered through the depression, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and more.

Eventually, many moved to more prosperous communities.

Many within a younger generation, were transformed into adults during college, establishing simple roots away from home.  

There was that first job, where many travelled to the city or points beyond which they had not anticipated.

Through time, they uprooted, upgraded, improved, and thrived.

Each one of those stations presented obstacles, challenge, failure and resurrection. And, as the Beatles wrote in 1965, “All these places had their meaning.” Ultimately, these stations made us who we are.

This week’s parashah inspires us to reflect upon the countless places where we have erected tents.

Indeed, every moment, every hour, every breath has been a miracle.

Now, as we begin reading the fifth and final book of the Torah, let us recall and be inspired by one or two of those simple places we camped at along the way – those places of wilderness that made us who we are.

Let us recall the excitement and apprehension we felt, as we reflect upon the miraculous experience each provided.

Moses begins his final days with a message to the Israelites: “Pause for a moment and reflect upon how far we have come. Our journey may not have been perfect – but it made us who we are.”

For whether through the amazing technology surrounding us, the freedom and safety we enjoy, or the families that have flourished around us, these continue to be miraculous times.

Based on Moses’ teaching, let us take a moment to reflect upon the stations of our own lives. 

For each one has sanctified us with miracles, reminding us of how protected and blessed we truly are.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman

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Sun, September 25 2022 29 Elul 5782