You Shall Pursue

July 29, 2012

D’var Torah: Parshat D’varim

Filed under: D'var Torah, Jewish Communitty — marleyweiner @ 11:29 pm

I delivered this d’var Torah at Kol Zimrah on Friday. It’s a little different from what I actually said, but that’s to be expected. Enjoy!

This week’s parsha, D’varim, is a parsha of new beginnings. Not only is it the beginning of a new book of Torah, it is the beginning of the end of the Israelite journey through the wilderness. What is interesting is that while this book begins a new chapter, it is a chapter composed almost entirely of recap.

Moses takes D’varim as an opportunity to remind the people of their travels through the wilderness before moving forward. He lays out the history of their military conquests, their rebellions against God, and the struggles that they have experienced while waiting for the time to come for them to enter the Promised Land. Moses understand that the Israelites can only comprehend the profound blessing of Eretz Yisrael if they are reminded of all that came before on their journey, both good and bad.

This model of looking back to move forward is one that has served the Jewish people throughout our long history. I’d like to quote at length from Jonathan Safran Foer, as I think that this quote beautifully captures the Jewish relationship with memory and history:

JEWS HAVE SIX SENSES touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing … memory. While Gentiles experience and process the world through the traditional senses, and use memory only as a second-order means of interpreting events, for Jews memory is no less primary than the prick of a pin, or its silver glimmer, or the taste of the blood it pulls from the finger. The Jew is pricked by a pin and remembers other pins. It is only by tracing the pinprick back to other pinpricks – when his mother tried to fix his sleeve while his arm was still in it, when his grandfather’s fingers fell asleep from stroking his great-grandfather’s damp forehead, when Abraham tested the knife point to be sure Isaac would feel no pain – that the Jew is able to know why it hurts. When a Jew encounters a pin, he asks: What does it remember like?”

As Jews we are responsible not only to the realities of the present; our actions are informed by thousands of years of tradition. Tomorrow night, on Tisha B’Av, we look back at the calamities that have faced our people throughout history. And while we note our past pain, we use it as a springboard for the month of Elul, our time of spiritual preparation for the coming year. We use the memory of past injustice to build a better and more spiritually whole future.

For many of us here, this is a time of new beginnings. I, as well as several of our other board members, am leaving New York to start graduate school. We have a new engagement, and also an upcoming wedding. We are seeking new professional opportunities, new spiritual commitments, and new relationships.

And yet, just like Moses, we do not move forward blindly. Rather, we return to the start as we move forward. We come together every month as a community to learn and pray and enjoy the company that a community brings. And we look back into the text to recall not only our ancestors’ triumphs, but also their shortcomings. In their wisdom and weaknesses, we find new lessons that will allow us to move forward into each new phase of our lives with joy and integrity.

May we remember this time, as we each move forward to new opportunities, as a time of joy and support. Shabbat Shalom.


Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: