Welcome to Torah Thoughts from the Jewish Congregation of Northern Iowa, Adas Israel. This week our parsha (portion) is the longest of the book of Deuteronomy (but not the longest in the Torah). It is called Parsha Re'eh which comes from the first word in this reading which means, in Hebrew, "See".
"See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse." Moses then goes on to tell the people they will be blessed if they follow the commandments (remember there are 613 of them) but, if they turn away from the commandments and follow other gods they will be cursed.
Pretty heavy stuff that we sometimes forget about. However, following the commandments does, indeed, give us a road map for life. If we do what we are supposed to do and stay away from that that will harm us or others...life becomes much easier to live.
The parsha continues with rules and laws for the land of Israel primarily oriented towards staying away from idol worship and the other religions in the land. In verses 13:1-12 you will find the section that caused a missionary's face to blanch and silenced him from continuing to proselytize a renowned rabbi. Go ahead, look it up.
We also have the source of the Chosen People concept this week: "You are a nation consecrated to G-d your Lord. G-d has chosen you from all nations on the face of the earth to be His own special nation ..." (Deut. 14:1-2). We are chosen for responsibility, not privilege --to act morally and to be a "light unto the nations."
That is one of the most misunderstood portions of the Torah. Non-Jews have used that as a wedge issue and say that the Jews "think they are better than everybody else". Not at all true. If you read the passage you will see there is a responsibility to live up to what is expected. It is not simply a designation that raises the Jew to a higher place it is a calling to act in line with His commandments.
Finally, and we have talked about this in our Midrash before, we come to that line in the Torah that points to the Oral Law. You see we already have the Written Law which is the Torah. But we also have the Oral Law or what some might call the Talmud. The Oral Law is said to have passed from Moses to Joshua and then, when in exile written down. Here is the line that points to the validity of the Oral Law:
It is from verse 12:21 "You will slaughter animals ... according to the manner I (G-d) have prescribed." Nowhere in the Torah are we instructed in the manner of shechita, ritual slaughter. One might conclude that there was a very sloppy editor. Or -- one might conclude that there are additional teachings (the Oral Law/Talmud) clarifying and amplifying the written Word.
This is also a special Shabbat because on both Saturday and Sunday is the start of the Hebrew Month of Elul. This is a very special month in the Jewish year as it is the month preceding Rosh Hashanah (which begins Sunday evening, September 9th). Our faith teaches us that each season of the year has a special spiritual opportunity for success. For instance, Passover is the time to work on freedom and Sukkot is the time to work on joy. Elul is the time to work on personal growth.
Services in August
Our services at Adas Israel is scheduled for Friday the 17th at 7:15pm and our Midrash (Bible Study) will take place on Shabbat (Saturday) the 18th at 10:00am. Everyone is welcome to attend.
Have a wonderful Shabbat...see you in Shul!