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Rabbi Kalmar's Sermon - Parshat Va'Etchanan / Shabbat Nachamu - July 31 / August 1, 2020

“Rabbi, Please tell me something Comforting!”

“Rabbi, Please tell me something comforting!”  It is Shabbat Nachamu – the Shabbat of comfort and consolation.  So we need to find some comfort and consolation.  The Rebbe – R. Moshe Leib of Sassov – the first Sassover Rebbe, student of the Maggid of Mezeritch says something concerning the first pasuk of our parsha that I find very appropriate for the situation we find ourselves in today.  Moshe says ‘Vaetchanan el Hashem, ba’eis hahi leimor”  and I prayed to Hashem at that time saying.  Says the Sassover – Moshe was saying to God – let me say something that is appropriate – b’ais hahi – at that time.  Because you can’t know what is going to happen tomorrow.  That seems so appropriate for our current situation – we just don’t know what is going to be tomorrow.  So I will try to say something comforting that works in the here and now – with the situation we are dealing with.


Moshe begins our parsha by entreating God -

וָאֶתְחַנַּן, אֶל-יְהוָה, בָּעֵת הַהִוא, לֵאמֹר.

23 And I besought the LORD at that time, saying:

Moshe asks God to be able to see the land of Israel.  What he wants more than anything.  And that he has been told before he cannot have.  But Moshe does not give up hope.  He hopes that things are different, that he can change his Mazal – he can change is situation and he asks.  God’s response is –

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֵלַי, רַב-לָךְ--אַל-תּוֹסֶף דַּבֵּר אֵלַי עוֹד, בַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה.

don’t ask any more!    The Medresh teslls us that had Moshe just prayed a little bit more – he would have been successful – But God asks him not do – so he stops.  You can look – God tells Moshe – you just cannot touch – you can’t go there – and I have my reasons.      But it tells us a powerful message – do not give up hope!  Moshe did not give up hope!  His actions mattered.  There are things you can do.  Don’t despair!  Moshe kept trying and trying.


I saw some inspiring and innovative things that people are doing in our current situation to make things work outside. 


A ceremony was held for new American citizens outside a courthouse in Boise, Idaho.


A recovery meeting in Wisconsin is convening outdoors on the shore of Lake Superior, one attendee said. People bring their own chairs and coffee and sit spaced apart. “Those of us in recovery have been loving our online meetings, but seeing people in person is better,” the attendee said. “We’ve dropped the hugging and hand-holding for now but we’re all really grateful to be together in one place again.”


The town of Windsor, Mass., held its annual town meeting at a park, broadcasting it over local FM radio so people could hear. Residents voted by flashing their headlights at the appropriate time


Estelle Frankel, a psychotherapist in Berkeley, Calif., is holding sessions with clients in a forest, with chairs eight feet apart. “In addition to the benefits of intimate, deep conversation, we are enjoying the calming effects of nature — what the Japanese call forest bathing,” 


Some schools are getting tents and moving school outside – just like we are doing with our minyan.  This may sound impractical for large schools – although during the tuberculosis outbreak of the early 1900’s all new York schools went outside. 


A Milwaukee attorney - Alexander “Sandie” Pendleton, said that there is no reason why staff meetings, client meetings and witness interviews have to be conducted indoors. He finds a shady spot, or open-sided shelter, with a picnic table. Two people can sit at the picnic table in a socially distanced way, and if there needs to be other people involved in the meeting, have lawn chairs for them.


Many people in our community have found ways to have socially distanced meals in a safe way as well.


The point is – “Do not give up hope in human ingenuity”.  And human progress.  This pandemic has been long and painful and frustrating. But that does not mean we have to give up hope.  We can be hopeful about a vaccine, yes.   But we can also do things – make the effort to come up with unique and safe ways to look with hope to the future.


God says as much to Moshe right after this –


וְצַו אֶת-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, וְחַזְּקֵהוּ וְאַמְּצֵהוּ:  כִּי-הוּא יַעֲבֹר, לִפְנֵי הָעָם הַזֶּה, וְהוּא יַנְחִיל אוֹתָם, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר תִּרְאֶה.

28 But charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him; for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which thou shalt see.'

Don’t give up hope in the Jewish people – give Yehoshua the strength to bring the people to the Land of Israel.  And furthermore – two verses later – it is in their hands to make their own future:

  וְעַתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל, שְׁמַע אֶל-הַחֻקִּים וְאֶל-הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְלַמֵּד אֶתְכֶם, לַעֲשׂוֹת--לְמַעַן תִּחְיוּ, וּבָאתֶם וִירִשְׁתֶּם אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵיכֶם, נֹתֵן לָכֶם.

1 And now, O Israel, hearken unto the statutes and unto the ordinances, which I teach you, to do them; that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, giveth you.

Its in the hands of the people – you want to go into the land – listen to the laws and the rules – it is in your hands.    Sometime we feel helpless – what can I do?  And the lesson from Moshe, and Yehoshua, and the Jewish people and all those who are using their ingenuity to make their lives work better in this strange time – the lesson is to keep trying and working. Hashem responds to our efforts. Don’t give up hope!  Chazak ViAmatz!  Be strong and courageous and creative!  Limaan Tichyu – in order that you should live! The comfort comes in knowing that we are not powerless.  Hashem is looking for us to use our ingenuity to overcome challenges.  And We Can Do It.

Wed, July 6 2022 7 Tammuz 5782