Deuteronomy 29:9 –31:30
“You stand here today, all of you, before the Lord your God …” [Deut. 29:9]
We read these words at the beginning of this week’s parasha, and then again on Yom Kippur – our holiest of holy days. While we believe that God is always present, at this time of year, we try to become more aware, and we attempt to take stock of how we are living our lives. Are we proud of who we have been? Are there things we would like to change? Asking ourselves these questions while standing in the presence of the Divine helps us to be more honest with ourselves – for nothing is hidden from God.
… but we can always use a little extra help.
A friend and colleague of mine introduced me to a wonderful tool that I have used now for several years. Do You 10Q is a free website that is designed to help us make the most of this opportunity to consciously stand before God. It is run by Reboot – a cutting edge example of Jewish spiritual entrepreneurialism.
Here is how it works:
First you will need to register. Then, starting on September 20th, a 10Q question will land in your inbox with a link. When you click on the link you will be taken to a secure site where you can record and store your answer. Nobody but you will have access to your answers. Each day, for ten days, you will receive another question with another link. You will then have a day or two after Yom Kippur to reflect on your answers and decide whether you want to keep them private, or share them either anonymously or attributed with the 10Q staff and with other 10Qers.
Once you are ready, you can then hit the “magic button” – which will lock your vault until next year, when your answers from the previous year will “magically” reappear in your inbox.
Each year, when I receive my answers from the previous year, I gain a fascinating perspective on how far I have come, where I have stumbled, and what I want to focus on for this upcoming year.
I strongly recommend Do You 10Q for your consideration, and in advance wish you a Shana Tovah u’Metukah, a sweet, healthy and happy New Year.
Deuteronomy 26:1 –29:8
Fifty-three verses. That is how long the interminable list of curses take in this week’s parasha as punishment for not following God. The number of blessings for doing right just pale in comparison.
It would be easy, understandable even, to focus on the negative and gloss over the good. Yet, doing so would cause us to miss one of the single most important teachings of Torah. The curses come: “because you [meaning us] would not serve the Lord your God in joy and gladness over the abundance of everything.” [Deut. 28:47]
One little verse, buried in the midst of a long litany of curses, says more than all fifty-three verses together: cultivate a life of gratitude, recognize the role of God in “the abundance of everything,” and even if the world around us seems filled with curses, we will somehow be able to find and live with joy.
All the rest is commentary.
Deuteronomy 21:10 –25:19
In Ki Teitze we find one of the most enigmatic of all commandments:
Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you came out of Egypt, how he fell upon you on the way and cut down all the stragglers, with you famished and exhausted, and he did not fear God. Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! [Deut. 25:17-19]
At first reading, this commandment seems to defy logic. How could we possibly remember not to forget to completely forget?
Amalek, for us, represents far more than one attack against the Israelite slaves escaping from Egypt – but to understand why we need to remember what actually happened. When we first left Egypt, we were a mob of refugees. We had no organization and no defenses. The people who were physically strongest walked quickly and were well towards the front. The most vulnerable followed as best they could – sometimes far behind. In attacking the stragglers, Amalek demonstrated the worst kind of depravity. It was not enough for them to prey on refugees, they attacked the most helpless from among our people: the very old, the very young and the infirm.
What could possibly motivate such an action? There are many possible answers: callousness, cowardice, opportunism. Our tradition judges Amalek more harshly: only pure evil, only unadulterated hatred could lead to such action. So, we are taught that in every generation Amalek rises again to destroy the Jewish people, and in every generation we must remember to blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. For us, Amalek and each new iteration of anti-Semitism are one and the same.
In Torah and in our generation, ‘never forget,’ is the first step in the fight against anti-Semitism and all racism. However, it is only the beginning of the process. The end goal is to eventually wipe out not only the reality of racism, but even its memory. To do so requires a strong and sustained act of will – over generations.
Amalek is still with us, and in many ways, we are still in the Wilderness. For now, we must never forget, we must remain vigilant, we must stand up through word and deed to repudiate those who spew hate. Yet, we must also remember: that while Amalek is still here, so are we – a small but strong people, bearing witness through our survival and our covenantal relationship with God, that the world can be a better place.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2018 by Rabbi Gary Pokras