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Devarim

This is the text of the d’var Torah I gave for Shabbat Chazon on 8/2/14.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak says of Shabbat Chazon, the “Shabbat of Vision”, each and every one of us is granted a vision of the third temple.

Both temples were destroyed on Tisha b’Av and, this year, it looks like our enemies are still at it.

Devarim is an extremely interesting parsha, as it is the very text where G-d commands us to take our domain which he has promised.  We journeyed in the last parsha and found our land, now we need to take it.

It’s also interesting that, in Chapter 2, verse 23, we are commanded to take control of Gaza.  It reads “and the Avvim, that dwelt in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorim, that came forth out of Caphtor, destroyed them, and dwelt in their stead.”  We have another important and telling link to the number 23: Psalm 23 which is one of the most famous of David’s songs.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Yet twice, we rejected his gift to us.  His gift was a divine presence here on earth.  A place where he could live.  A place where we could transcend ourselves; a place where we could experience his glory as best as our mortal bodies were able to.

His temples were destroyed because we turned our backs on the prophets he gave us.  We rejected the tenets He put forth and He could not dwell among us anymore.  Prophet after prophet warned us, most notably Jeremiah.

He makes me lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside still waters.

We journeyed from camp to camp, across desert climes, through valleys, rocks, dirt, and grass.  Floors were the ground, and the best floor we would have had then was grass.  Even more than that, He promised us fertile land.  Land which we could inhabit and which would support our fledgeling, but blessed, nation.

He restores my soul:

Even though we neglected and continue to neglect Him.  Even though we neglect ourselves.  Even though we continue to transgress, hurt, and distress others.

Why would he restore our souls when we do so much bad?

Because we can do so much good.  Because we love.  We are able to build, learn, and teach.  We are able to nurture things large and small, from a single cell up to restoring an entire endangered group of animals.

Shabbat Chazon is traditionally the “black Sabbath.”  The darkest, saddest Shabbat because we are about to relive the destruction of two temples.  Hold onto this particular Mizmor l’David, though, and see that we can make it to Shabbat Shuvah, the “white Sabbath,” right before Yom Kippur.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

He helps and guides us for his reputation.  He promised us that he would take care of us, and gosh-darnit, he’s doing his best.  We complained about being taken out of Egypt, we complained about the giants the spies reported to us, we even had the chutzpah to complain about manna.  I mean, manna.  You could starve out here and davka you complain about being nourished?!

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

We constantly walk through this valley.  Sometimes the walls are higher than others.  Sometimes the shadows stretch farther than others.  Occasionally, the sun dips below the lips of the valley and we are entrenched in darkness.

Somehow, we have always come out stronger and more resilient.  Perhaps us Jews are the rubber of religions: trials by fire harden our resolve and make us bounce back just as sulphur and heat vulcanize rubber.  Perhaps we are the result of a promise someone who loves us made.

I will fear no evil, for you are with me.  Your rod and your staff comfort me.

Why should we fear evil?

Hashem gave us tools to defend ourselves.  He gave us our hands to build tools, our world to supply our needs, and our minds to conceive and plan.  Whether it was a pillar of cloud defending us from the encroaching Egyptians or Operation Pillar of Defense defending us from Hamas rockets, Hashem needs us for his reputation just as we need him for our survival.

He isn’t content with just our survival, though.  He wants us to be taken care of.  We have some of the smartest minds, whether they’re shomer, non-practicing, or anywhere inbetween.  We have created fabrics, machines, and chemicals which help us live better.

Without Hashem’s backing, we would not be able to do this.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

This, for me, is the strongest part of the shepherd metaphor.

If Hashem were sadistic, he would only let us eat when we were among enemies.  Sheep, however, are always surrounded by predators.  They are essentially walking, baa-ing hulks of delicious meat.

Hashem knows that the land, technology, and culture we have are constantly threatened.  Even just the past two weeks we have seen previously hidden anti-Semitism rage back into the spotlight.

We, indeed, have a table prepared for us, in the presence of our enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

We are the chosen people of Hashem.  We have been anointed.  The problem is that it’s often lonely at the top and, once at the top, it’s really easy to fall.

Today’s haftarah talks about that fall.  Isaiah condemns the Jewish people for violating everything good that was set out for them.  Everything that was given to us and everything we worked for was thrown away by neglecting our own communities and G-d.

Hashem has been shocked by his people just as a parent would be shocked when it is exposed that their child is a criminal.  We are told that we’re on the same level as Sodom and Gomorrah, that our nation has become like a harlot, and that we are dumber than an ass.  He tells us that our sacrifices mean nothing to him if they are performed out of habit and not with intent to show gratitude.  He tells us that we can still do better.

He tells us our crimson sins can be washed clean as snow and that the red tapestry of our iniquities can be unspun into fleece.

We are living in a red tapestry right now.  The blood of our own and the blood we are forced to spill defending ourselves thickens every day.

Hamas, is an organization named for the Arabic word meaning “zealotry.”  What are they zealous of?  Destroying us.  Destroying G-d’s promise.  Destroying not just the country Israel, but the people.  Me and you.

Likely not coincidentally, “hamas” is a Hebrew word meaning “violence.”

We are walking through a new valley with the shadow of death enveloping us.  Yet we fear no evil.  We know what we must do and our enemy continues to, literally and figuratively, dig themselves into a hole.  Even just yesterday, our own president finally unequivocally condemned Hamas for violating a cease fire that ended up lasting 90 minutes.  It is a welcome reprieve from the constant condemnation.

This parsha is right on time.  It reminds us that Gaza is not something we should be walking gingerly around but is a territory that has been through the hands of countless conquerors and needs the right tenants, just as a shelter dog is looking for his “forever home.”  Gaza, since biblical times, has been no stranger to conflict, both internal and external.

We, however, need not be afraid of our conflicts, for justice and peace are on our side, though they may seem fleeting.

Back to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev for a minute.  He shared a story about a father and his son.  This father prepared a beautiful suit for his son to wear.  The son, however, neglected to take care of this suit and it soon was in pieces.  The father made his son a second suit which quickly suffered the same fate.  After some thought, the father decided to make his son a third suit, but he never gave it to his son.  On special occasions he would show the suit to his son and remind him that once he learned to appreciate it, it would be given to him.  The son was inspired to improve his behavior little by little, anticipating the day he would be worthy of that suit.

That suit is the third temple.  The place where Hashem can dwell among us.  The arrival of Moshiach.  Shabbat Chazon is the time when we’re called to action not to be afraid of this valley of the shadow of death.  We are assured that as long as we keep doing what we know is right our cunning, our strength, and our compassion will finally bring the subject of Chapter 2, verse 23 in line with the ending of Psalm 23.

May only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life.
May I return to the house of the L-rd, forever.

Shabbat Shalom.