Parshat Va’ethannan: Listen


Drash by Davi Cheng, August 16, 2019

Shabbat Shalom.
So, I have led services many times before, but this one feels a little different for me. I guess, maybe because we are in a year of transitioning and changes. Things seem to be the same but yet not exactly the same. I suppose how I feel right now, is not so different from how the Children of Israel are feeling, in this week’s Torah portion, Va’ethanna – Which in Hebrew means “and I pleaded.” The Israelites are camped out at the border, getting ready to cross over to the promised land, but their leader Moses, will not be going along with them.

In this week’s Torah portion, it picks up from last week, with Moses still jabbering to the children of Israel at the border of Jordan. He is letting them know that he pleaded with God to let him into the promised land. “…Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan, that good hill country, and the Lebanon.” (Deuteronomy 3:23-25) Moses continues, “but God was cross with me on your account, (It’s all your fault) God wouldn’t hearken to me!…” (Deuteronomy 3:26)

Can you imagine the trepidation and anxiety that is being stirred up? Moses appears angry with them, the Israelites are in a place of transitioning: changing leadership, changing location, changing a way of life, changing belief system, going from worship of carved images to a God who has no form, and no one knows what lies ahead.

Moses is anxious too, worried that the Israelites will stray from God. He continues to recount in detail the journey out of Egypt and their history. He tells the Children of Israel God’s miracles and commands, he repeats the Ten Commandments, and gives explicit instructions about the importance of loyalty to God. He pleads for them to hearken to God’s voice so that they may live.

Moses reassures them that God does hear their words. Moses says,”…God said to me: I have heard the voice of this people’s words that they have spoken to you; it is well, all that they have spoken!” (Deuteronomy 5:25)

This goes on and on with Moses repeating again and again how important it for the Children of Israel to hearken and observe God’s laws and commandment. Then out of nowhere, comes the ‘Shema.’

About two third the way into this portion, Moses says, “…Hear, O Israel, Adonai our God, Adonai is One!…” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

I think it’s funny. I always thought that this verse is here because people have tuned Moses out with his long-winded instructions, and their eyes are glazed over. “Hear, O Israel!” “Listen” Moses raises his voice and shakes them awake and remind them to Pay Attention! Listen!

How many of us in our own life tune things out and stop listening when we are anxious, or we are in a place of uncertainty?

Just like the Children of Israel in this Torah portion, we at BCC are in transition also. We as a congregation are camped out at the border and ready to cross over to a new promised land, but fortunately for us, and unlike the Israelites, we have two wonderful and fabulous clergy, our interim  rabbi Alyson Solomon, and Cantor Juval Porat, to guide us through. And unlike the Israelites, we actually know what will come ahead of us, because we are working very hard to reflect on what we want individually and collectively.

The search committee, Co-chaired by Ginger Jacobs and Elizabeth Savage, has set up several Community Reflection meetings to hear you, we want to hearken your vision for BCC over the next 3-5 years. We want to hear what you want in a settled rabbi. If you have not already attended one of these, there is still one more session left on Aug 18 from 3 – 5 pm at the home of Marsha Epstein and Aviyah Farkas in the West LA/Santa Monica area. Information is in the seat bulletin.

And soon after that, we will have a ‘Town Hall’ meeting in which the Search Committee will share with all of you, what we have heard, and gathered up from members of our congregation.

Back to the Torah, I went through and counted all the verses in this portion that contain the word hear, or hearken or listen, including the Shema, guess how many are there? 20!

So Shema, O Israel – BCC members, Listen. Listen to our own voices and the voices of others, learn to hear one another so that together we can become a stronger community and let’s create a place where all words are heard. As God tells Moses: I have heard the voice of this people’s words that they have spoken to you; it is well, all that they have spoken!” (Deuteronomy 5:25)
Shabbat Shalom