24 July 2015
This week’s parasha is the first in the Book of Deuteronomy. Devarim – “words” – is the same Hebrew name for Deuteronomy. Moses begins his long and final sermon to the People of Israel, and his eloquence belies his humble beginnings as a leader when he declared earlier in Exodus, “…O God, I have never been a man of words….”
This parasha is traditionally read on the Shabbat prior or simultaneous to Tisha B’av, the commemoration of the destruction of the Temple. Reminding us of the power of words, the Talmud teaches that one of the reasons the Temple was destroyed was because of the hatred of one Jew toward another.
A later Jewish tale goes like this: A man told a scandalous story in the community. Realizing his crime, he went to his Rabbi and begged forgiveness. The Rabbi told him, “Take a fine feather pillow to the top of the highest mountain and tear it open.” The young man was incredulous. “That’s all?” The Rabbi replied, “Come back when you have done this.” The young man did as he was told, releasing the feathers onto the wind. He returned, clapped his hands together and said, “It is done.” The Rabbi gave him a slight smile. “Not quite. Now you must pick up each and every one of those feathers.” The young man’s face went very pale. “But that is impossible.” “Quite right,” nodded the Rabbi sadly. “Each time you told this story, it was like a thousand feathers in the wind. You never know where they will finally be laid to rest, and how many others they will touch on the way. It is as impossible to retrieve a rumor, even a truth, as it is to pick up each and every feather.”
Today, we are in danger of becoming immune to the far-reaching power of words. The speed and pithiness of social media obscures deliberateness and considered thought. There is both energy and danger in the strong conviction that somehow each of us is right. Millions of words are being used – sometimes hateful words. When cast about within the Jewish community, we tear at the very fabric that binds us together. We are in for a very difficult period of time between now and the vote on the Iran deal. And after. There will be charges and countercharges, categorizations and caricatures, partisan and non-partisan debates.
There is genuine fear in the Israeli and worldwide Jewish and general communities about this deal and what it does and does not do. There are many who oppose the deal, many who endorse it and still others who believe it won’t make a difference either way. The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement will double down on its attacks on Israel, and our college students will bear the brunt of this as they head back to campuses this fall. Regardless of how the vote goes and the deal is resolved, we have much work to do – together.
In his final address, Moses admonished the Israelites to remember history, be committed to the commandments and go forward with conviction. A commentator wrote: “As we shape our words, so we shape our world.” Not bad advice, even in the year 2015.
Learn more about the Iran Nuclear Agreement with these resources from the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Ways to Make it Yours
Enjoy a screening of charming documentary The Age of Love at the JCCNV on Sunday, August 2, followed by discussion and dinner.
Delight your senses with a scrumptious tour of Bethesda’s Central Farm Market with Jewish Food Experience® on Sunday, August 9.
Buy your baseball game ticket for a fun-filled day at National’s Park with the Greater Washington Jewish Community on Sunday, August 30.