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Rabbi Kalmar's Sermon - Parshat Devarim / Shabbat Chazon - 5780

"The Hunt for the Vaccine - Hoping for a Star that is among the Sand"


Honestly, I’m tired of wearing this mask.  It’s frustrating, it doesn’t feel good – it gets humid in here – and no one can tell if I’m smiling or frowning.  I just don’t like it.     But – the doctors and the statistics are saying that this is the best way to keep everyone safe.  And President Trump says that it is patriotic to wear one.  So I’m doing it.  But I’m not happy about it. 


So we’re all waiting for the vaccine – so that we can take this off and get back to normal.  And the hunt for the vaccine is on. 


More than 140 teams are working on vaccines, most of which are not in human trials yet.  17 are in small scale safety trials, 13 are in phase 2 expanded trials, 5 are in large scale stage 3 efficacy trials, and 0 have been approved for general use.


There are so many competitors who are reaching for the gold -  “We’re not really in a competition against each other,” said Dr. Andrew Pollard, who is leading a vaccine study at Oxford University. “We’re in a race against a pandemic virus, and we really need as many players in that race as possible.”


As Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, put it: “You need more shots on goal for a chance at getting a safe and effective vaccine.”


There is no way to predict which vaccine, if any, will work safely or is the front runner. 


But governments around the world are doing whatever they can to get their hands on a winner.


The United States rolled out Operation Warp Speed – appointing a general, Gustave Perna,  to take on the procuring of a vaccine and the supplies needed to deliver it – with the hope for 100 million doses to be possibly ready in November and another 200 million for January. 


The US Britain and Canada have accused Russia of trying to steal vaccine secrets via hacking.


China has also been accused of the US of trying to steal vaccine secrets although they also seem to be leading the pack in terms of companies that are ready to come out with a vaccine. 


And General Perna has indicated that China is not seen by the US as a country that it sees as an ally in the hunt for the virus. 


So we may all be rushing ahead for the glory and the gold – but not necessarily with each others and the entire world’s best interests in mind.


In the beginning of this week’s Parsha – Moshe delivers a stunning rebuke to the Jewish people - אֵיכָ֥ה אֶשָּׂ֖א לְבַדִּ֑י טָרְחֲכֶ֥ם וּמַשַּֽׂאֲכֶ֖ם וְרִֽיבְכֶֽם:

How can I bear your trouble, your burden, and your strife all by myself?


You people are such a trouble!

But right before that – he seemingly gives them great praise –

יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֖ם הִרְבָּ֣ה אֶתְכֶ֑ם וְהִנְּכֶ֣ם הַיּ֔וֹם כְּכֽוֹכְבֵ֥י הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם לָרֹֽב:

The Lord, your God, has multiplied you, and behold, you are today as the stars of the heavens in abundance.


How do we understand the praise next to the criticism?


R Menachem Zacks, in his Menachem Tzion, suggest that we can see the answer in the next verse. 


יְהֹוָ֞ה אֱלֹהֵ֣י אֲבֽוֹתֵכֶ֗ם יֹסֵ֧ף עֲלֵיכֶ֛ם כָּכֶ֖ם אֶ֣לֶף פְּעָמִ֑ים וִֽיבָרֵ֣ךְ אֶתְכֶ֔ם כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֖ר דִּבֶּ֥ר לָכֶֽם

May the Lord God of your forefathers add to you a thousandfold as many as you are, and may He bless you, as He spoke concerning you!


Where do we see – K’asher diber lachem – as he spoke concerning you?


In the blessing that God gave to Avraham right after the Akeidah He says

כִּֽי־בָרֵ֣ךְ אֲבָֽרֶכְךָ֗ וְהַרְבָּ֨ה אַרְבֶּ֤ה אֶת־זַרְעֲךָ֙ כְּכֽוֹכְבֵ֣י הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְכַח֕וֹל אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־שְׂפַ֣ת הַיָּ֑ם

That I will surely bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand that is on the seashore


Says Rabbi Zaks – there are two models that Hashem blesses the Jewish people with – the stars and the sand.    The star – is a blessing that you should be like a star – unique, strong, shining, blazing – a real star – showing your greatness and your star quality. 

But there is also the sand – which is numerous, and uncountable and stuck together.  This represents the Kahal – the congregation – which comes together as one and sticks together through thick and thin.


Everyone has their own unique abilities and the potential to be a ‘star’.  But what do you do with those talents?  Do you use them to set yourself apart and above everyone else?  Or do you use them to bring everyone together and to uplift the many like the sand?


Says Rav Zaks – our pasuk says  ְהִנְּכֶ֣ם הַיּ֔וֹם כְּכֽוֹכְבֵ֥י הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם לָרֹֽב


You are today – as the stars of the heavens in abundance.  The stars are also great in number – like the sand – but they also shine.  What the Torah is telling us is – you should be a star – but use those star talents in a way that benefits the rov – that benefits the congregation.  Use your God given special talents on behalf of everyone.  That’s why you were made a star – to shine for all.  

There are many seeking fortune in fame in the hunt for the vaccine.  We can only hope that they do so in a way that is like a star – and that their efforts should shine for the whole world, but that they also have the qualities of sand in mind – looking out for the whole world. 


In the meantime – (puts on mask)  until we have that shooting star vaccine – we need to keep protecting each other.   Have a good Shabbos.  Shabbat Shalom.

Wed, July 6 2022 7 Tammuz 5782