D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
Democracy (by Leonard Cohen)
It's coming through a hole in the air
From those nights in Tiananmen Square
It's coming from the feel
That this ain't exactly real
Or it's real, but it ain't exactly there
From the wars against disorder
From the sirens night and day
From the fires of the homeless
From the ashes of the gay
Democracy is coming to the USA
I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
That time cannot decay
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
This little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming to the USA
In the song I just sang, Democracy, written in 1992 by Leonard Cohen of blessed memory-- Cohen a nice Jewish boy from Montreal notes that democracy won’t come through the government but through a fresh wind, a hole in the air -- It’s coming from the silence on the dock of the bay, from the brave, the bold, the battered heart of Chevrolet; from the sorrow in the street, the holy places where races meet; from the homicidal bitchin’ that goes down in every kitchen to determine who will serve and who will eat.
Cohen combines a certain amount of cynicism with hope-- that we are not the democracy we claim to be and that racism has yet to be abolished, but that America is trying to getting there.
In the Jerusalem Talmud Rabbi Akiva and Ben Azzai have a disagreement as to which is the most fundamental principle in the Torah. Rabbi Akiva quotes the book of Leviticus: וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵֽעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י ה'You Shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18). So well-known is this verse in relation to Rabbi Akiva that it was made into a popular song, Amar Rabi Akiva-- Rabbi Akiva said. Ben Azzai on the other hand, quotes Genesis: זֶ֣ה סֵ֔פֶר תּֽוֹלְדֹ֖ת אָדָ֑ם This is the book of the generations of Adam.(Gen. 5:1) Rabbi Akiva’s statement is straightforward-- the most important thing that the Torah teaches is to love your neighbor as yourself. But Ben Azzai’s statement is not quite so straightforward. What exactly might he have meant with his seemingly peculiar quotation from Genesis? It becomes much clearer if we look at the entire verse:
זֶ֣ה סֵ֔פֶר תּֽוֹלְדֹ֖ת אָדָ֑ם בְּי֗וֹם בְּרֹ֤א אֱלֹהִים֙ אָדָ֔ם בִּדְמ֥וּת אֱלֹהִ֖ים עָשָׂ֥ה אֹתֽוֹ: זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בְּרָאָ֑ם וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָ֗ם:
This is the book of generations of Adam—When God created man, God made man in the likeness of God; male and female God created them (Genesis 5:1–2).
Ben Azzai believed in the principle that all human beings were created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image and so no one person is superior to another. Both sides of the argument -- the feelings of love for one’s neighbor and the belief that all human beings are created in God’s image, have merit. 
However, without Ben Azzai’s principle that all men are created in God’s image the commandment to love your neighbor has no philosophic base. Because we are all created in God’s image, all born with equal dignity, it should stand that we love our neighbor. It’s on the basis of b’tzelem Elohim that God can say to the children of Adam -- Love your neighbor as yourself. As philosopher Hermann Cohen wrote: the love of a neighbor is dependent upon God’s creation of man, and not upon the subjective feeling with which I love myself or somebody else. 
The idea that certain essential rights and liberties are inseparable from the very creation of human beings is not just found in Ben Azzai’s quote from Genesis. It is deeply rooted elsewhere in the Bible as well-- in the idea of covenant, the belief that every man or woman is free to choose between good and evil, and the idea that the right law is ultimately founded on the righteousness of God and not on the will of any human being, even if that human being is a King or Judge.  Could it be that the American writer E. B. White was familiar with the argument between Rabbi Akiba and Ben Azzai when he wrote: do not try to save the world by loving your neighbor; it will only make him nervous. Save the world by respecting your neighbor’s rights under law and insisting that he respect yours [under the same law]. In short, save the world. 
Known more for his children’s books such as Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, than for his body of essays, White lived and wrote through several of the most contentious periods in our history-- the depression, World War II, the McCarthy era, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights movement-- writing about all of them in the New Yorker and Harper’s magazines. 
In the early days of World War II after the Nazis invaded Poland and plunged Europe into a war that would last 6 years, White described a day he spent on the waters in Maine:
It struck me as we worked our way homeward up the rough bay with our catch of lobsters and a fresh breeze in our teeth, that this was what the fight was all about. This was it. Either we would continue to have it or we wouldn’t, this right to speak our own minds, haul our own traps, mind our own business, and wallow in the wide, wide, sea. 
About democracy White wrote: It is the current suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor.
We often hear people say that in the United States “freedom is not free.” This is often used in reference to the military and wars fought and won to protect the values of the country- to remind people that democracy didn’t just magically happen. Thousands of people were killed and/or died for us to sit here and sip as Mark Manson writes in that same book I mentioned last week whose name I cannot entirely say on this bima: for us to sit here and sip overpriced mocha Frappuccinos and say whatever the bleepity bleep we want. It’s a reminder that the basic human rights we enjoy were earned through a sacrifice against some external force. 
But these rights were also earned through sacrifice against some internal force. As Manson writes: Democracy can only exist when we are willing to tolerate views that oppose our own, when we’re willing to give up some things we might want for the sake of a safe and healthy community…..democracy requires a citizenry of strong maturity and character …..Freedom demands discomfort. It demands dissatisfaction. Because the freer a society becomes, the more each person will be forced to reckon and compromise with views and lifestyles and ideas that conflict with their own. 
Life gets worse without democratic representation, in almost every way. And it’s not because democracy is so great. It’s more that a functioning democracy [bleepity bleeps] things up less often and less severely than any other form of government.  As Winston Churchill once famously said: Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.
Menahem Mendel of Kotzk, a 19th century Hassidic rabbi also known as the Kotzker Rebbe once wrote: Who among you, created in the image of God, could compare himself with his creator? Yet I say unto you: Even if the heavens were to descend or the earth to break asunder, a man must not renounce his rights.
In his book, Judaism and the American Idea, Milton Konvitz notes how the biblical story of creation helped to establish the idea that there is an eternal order that is natural, moral, divinely ordained -- an order that was around prior to and independent of human life.  The same God who created the sun and the moon created Adam and Eve, and just as God was the law maker for the former, so, too, was God the law maker for the latter. If God can make laws that regulate the physical bodies, God can make laws to guide the actions of human beings. According to Konvitz, no man, no king, no government, can alter that moral order.
This is perhaps the origin of the notion of the Rule of Law, that all things, events, and actions are subject to law. As a system of values, Judaism places an emphasis on law. In addition to the Torah we have the Mishnah, the Talmud, rabbinic commentaries, codes of law, responsa literature, and on and on.
From the very beginning of American civlization, the founding fathers who thought of themselves as Israelites who had left Egypt and entered the Promised Land, where they might live under the laws of God and not men, moved towards a law-centered civilization. So fully did they identify with the Israelites that Benjamin Franklin wanted the country’s great seal to depict Moses parting the Red Sea. 
Judaism accepts the teaching of the school of Rabbi Ishmael that “the Torah speaks in the language of men” and so there are bound to be differences of opinions over what the law is and what it requires. But this is no way weakened Halakha, Jewish law. Rabbinic texts record hundreds of disputes; between Hillel and Shammai; between Rav and Shmuel; between Abaye and Rava. All opinions were duly recorded as disputes for the sake of heaven. Each opinion was regarded as of value. Not only did the sages call out errors made by other rabbis but some called out their own errors.
The greatest test for the Rule of Law comes when the head of a government asserts he or she is beyond the reach of the law. The Tanakh provides several examples of rulers who were not beyond the law no matter how much they tried.
In the II Book of Samuel, King David sets up Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband to be killed in battle so he could be free to take Bathsheba as a wife for himself. When Bathsheba gives birth to David’s child, the prophet Nathan confronts David with his crime and David responds: חָטָ֖אתִי לַֽה' I have sinned before God (IISam 12:13)
In I Kings, King Ahab of Samaria lets his wife Jezebel contrive the murder of Naboth, whose vineyard is coveted by the king. The prophet Elijah confronts him with his crime. Ahab responds by fasting, renting his clothes and putting sackcloth on his body.
In each story the king tried to take what was not his to take. In each case the king plotted the murder of someone standing in the way of his getting what he wanted. In each case the king was held accountable by the prophet of his day. In each case the King repented. In Tanakh the prophet was the voice of God, the voice of conscience; the voice of outraged morality. Prophets were at the very least, the journalists, congressional oversight committees, and grand juries of their day. 
If in the Bible we can trace the origins of the human race to a single person who was formed by God in God’s own image, the Talmud brings that idea to its fullest maturity.  The Talmud sought to protect the accused against a miscarriage of justice. Circumstantial evidence no matter how convincing, was not acceptable (Tosefta Sanhedrin 8:3). Juror-judges could reverse a vote from guilty to not guilty but not the other way around. The younger members of the court were first to announce their vote, so as not to be influenced by the actions of their seniors. In civil cases a majority of one was sufficient to establish guilt but in criminal cases a majority of two was required.
The Talmudists developed a system of democratically constituted town councils which were charged with the administration of local municipalities. Since this whole process would bring individuals in positions where they exercised power over the lives of others, it was then the job of the community to develop instruments of social control to temper that power. 
The Sanhedrin, the Jewish court system at the time of the Temple, ruled that in order to make sure a King was kept humble, he was required as soon as he took the throne, to write his own Torah scroll for himself. He was required to have that scroll with him on all occasions, even when he sat down to eat. The king was not allowed to have more than a certain number of wives and if he did he was flogged. He was not allowed to have more than a certain number of horses, and if he did he was flogged. He was forbidden from filling his private treasury and if he did he was flogged. 
As E. B. White wrote: I just want to tell before I get slowed down, that I am in love with freedom and that it is an affair of long standing and that it is a fine state to be in, and that I am deeply suspicious of people who are beginning to adjust to fascism and dictators merely because they are succeeding in war. From such adaptable natures a smell rises. I pinch my nose  ........ Democracy, if I understand it at all, is a society in which the unbeliever feels undisturbed and at home. If there were only half a dozen unbelievers in America, their well-being would be a est of our democracy, their tranquility would be its proof. 
It’s coming to America first
The cradle of the best and of the worst
It’s here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it’s here they got the spiritual thirst
It’s here the family’s broken
And it’s here the lonely sa
That the heart has got to open
In a fundamental way
Democracy is coming to the USA
Sail on sail on
O mighty ship of state
To the shores of need, pass the reefs of greed
Through the squalls of hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on......
G’mar Chatima Tova
1. Milton R. Konvitz. Judaism and the American Idea. (Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, c1978) 44.
2. Ibid. 45
3. Ibid. 38
4. Martha White, ed. E. B. White on Democracy (New York : Harper Collins, c2019) location 853
5. Ibid. location 90
6. Ibid. location 95.
7. Mark Manson. Everything is fu’d. (New York : Harper Collins, c2019) 21.
8. Ibid. 212.
10. Milton R. Konvitz. Judaism and the American Idea. (Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, c1978) 41.
11. Bari Weiss. How to Fight anti-Semitism. (New York : Random House, c2019) location 19.
12. Milton R. Konvitz. Judaism and the American Idea. (Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, c1978) 60
13. Ben Zion Bokser. “Democratic Aspirations in Talmudic Judaism.” In Judaism and Human Rights (New York : W.
14. Ibid. 148.
15. Milton R. Konvitz. Judaism and the American Idea. (Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, c1978) 62.
16. White, Martha, ed. E. B. White on Democracy (New York : Harper Collins, c2019) location 488.
17. Ibid. 1481.
Rise Up (by Audra Day)
You're broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry go round
And you can't find the fighter
But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
And I'll rise up, I'll rise like the day
I'll rise up, I'll rise unafraid I'll rise up
And I'll do it a thousand times again
And I'll rise up high like the waves
I'll rise up in spite of the ache
I'll rise up and I'll do it a thousand times again
Back in 2001 my life underwent a transformation. When I say transformation I don’t mean I changed my hairstyle; or got a makeover; or bought a new car; or got a new job……. No wait that’s not right, I actually did get a really fantastic new job that year. But in essence what happened to me in 2001 was a massive shift in the way I thought about life; in the way I presented myself to the world; and in the way others responded to me. Without that transformation I would surely not be standing in front of you today. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be standing in front of anyone or anywhere were it not for the miraculous new and positive direction my life managed to take.
But of all the things that changed for me that year, one particular detail stands out more than any other. The year 2001 was the year I first encountered hope.
Having grown up with a verbally abusive mother and having lived for many years with an alcoholic husband, hope had rarely if ever entered into my vocabulary let alone my thoughts and actions. Up until 2001 my days were focused on a single thought--making sure I – and by extension, my husband Joe-- got through the day safe and sound. I was consumed with survival. I was filled with fear.
In Rise Up, the song I just sang; a song made famous by Audra Day, the lyrics cry out that despite being broken down and tired; despite the ache in our hearts-- we can and we will shake the fear; we can and we will move mountains, and together we can and we will rise up. What drives us and gives us the confidence to rise up is hope. Later on the lyrics proclaim: All we need is hope and for that we have each other.
In 2001 my life crashed all around me. I could no longer hide from the world what was happening at home and I was faced with two choices. As one of my best friends said to me at the time: Ellie, you can go down with the ship-- or not. Fortunately for me this wasn't a choice at all. I wasn’t ready to give up. I wasn't willing in the least to go down with the ship. It doesn’t mean it was easy.
While in those early days it was basic survival skills that got me through, as I eventually got back on my feet a little bit more, it was hope that carried the day. It was hope that saved me.
Hope is defined as “the perceived capability to derive pathways to a desired goal and motivate oneself despite possible obstacles, to use those pathways and achieve your goal.” Just like the Little Engine that Could, thoughts such as “I think I can” serve as motivators for us in pursuing goals.
But, using the word hope in a sentence doesn’t mean we are hopeful. When someone says: “I hope you have a great day” it isn’t an expression of hope, it is a wish. Unless the person who speaks that sentence is going to spend the entire day with you they really have little control over whether or not you will have a great day. When someone says, “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow,” this is also a wish since most of us anyway, have no control over whether it is going to rain tomorrow or not.
Hope is something unique to human beings. As Dr. Shane Lopez writes in his book Making Hope Happen: Whenever someone poses the question, what’s unique about humans? feel free to skip the usual answers about opposable thumbs, the use of tools, and language, and instead answer: Hope.”
When we are hopeful we have high expectations for the future, as well as a clear assessment of the obstacles we need to overcome in order to get there. It isn’t just something you sit around and wish for or wait to happen. Hope requires action. It is the belief that your future can be brighter and better than your past and that you have a role to play in making it better.
According to Shane Lopez people who are hopeful share 3 core beliefs.
First: the future will be better than the present.
Second: I have the power to make it so.
Third: There are many paths to my goals and none of them is free of obstacles..
In the course of human history hope has not always been perceived as a positive force. Plato called hope a “foolish counselor,” while the Greek philosopher Sophocles believed human suffering was prolonged by hope. Benjamin Franklin declared that anyone who lives on hope will die fasting, while Friedrich Nietzsche like Sophocles called hope “the most evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.” Religious leaders have consistently used hope to buoy the spirits of their flock, but demagogues have utilized it for their own nefarious purposes.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes about one of the most formative moments in Jewish history-- the encounter between Moses and God at the Burning Bush when Moses asks God what name he should use when people want to know who God is. God’s response is mysterious – Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, literally I will be what I will be. As Rabbi Sacks writes--God’s name belongs to the future tense. God’s call is to that which is not yet. If we fail to understand this, we will miss the very thing that makes Judaism unique. 
In Torah the Jewish story begins with God’s call to Abraham to leave his birthplace and travel to the land that I will show you, (Gen. 12:1) but Genesis ends with the promise unfulfilled. In Exodus Moses is called to lead the Israelites back to freedom and the Promised Land. But a journey that should have taken days takes 40 years and by the end of the Torah, the end of the book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites have still not fulfilled the promise. It’s a gloomy conclusion but it is also a hopeful one because we don’t know the end of the story. The story is incomplete.
At the end of the Tanakh, the end of the Bible, the Israelites are in exile again – this time in Babylonia and they have been given permission to return from almost the same place from which Abraham and his family set out. So here’s the deal. The stories in Tanakh have a beginning but while there is an end, it’s always just beyond the horizon. We always seem to be looking towards the future—like to the Messianic age when nation shall not lift up sword against nation. (Isaiah 2:4)
Having said all that, in the Torah hope is presented for the first time in history as a positive force. While the Greeks believed in fate, that our future is determined by our past, the Jews believed in freedom, that there is no evil decree that cannot be averted. As we will sing in a little while:
U’tshuvah, u’tfilah, u’tzedakah,
Ma’avirin et ro’eh ha-gezeirah
But repentance, prayer, and deeds of charity have the power to transform the harshness of our destiny.
If the Greeks gave the world the concept of tragedy, Jews gave the world the idea of hope. As Rabbi Sacks notes: Judaism is a sustained struggle, the greatest ever known, against the world that is, in the name of the world that could be, should be, but is not yet. There is no more challenging vocation. Throughout history, when human beings have sought hope they have found it in the Jewish story. Judaism is the religion, and Israel the home, of hope.
It is no accident that so many Jews spend their time pursuing justice; fighting poverty and disease -- refusing to see these things as inevitable. It is no accident that after the Holocaust, Jews did not become bitter and resentful, but instead looked to the future, building a nation whose national anthem is Hatikvah, the hope.
Elie Wiesel used to tell the story of a remarkable discovery he made in Breslov, Poland. Over the entrance to the oldest synagogue in the city he came upon a sign that had surely uplifted the ghetto dwellers of the city 150 years ago, functioning as a challenge and a forewarning of the need for hope many years later during the Holocaust. The sign read: Gevalt! don’t give up!
It's easy to be fearful of hope. It seems so unlikely while fear seems so logical and persuasive. After all, your hopes may not have come true in the past but maybe your fears did. Never be afraid to hope because once we become afraid we become paralyzed. Fear robs us of our courage, while our hopes can come true, sometimes against all odds.
Mark Manson, in his book whose name I cannot entirely say from this bima, Everything is f’d, the opposite of happiness isn’t anger or sadness. If you are angry or sad it means you still care. You still have hope. You still give a darn. No, the opposite of happiness is hopelessness—the belief that everything is messed up so why do anything at all. Hopelessness is the root of anxiety, mental illness, and depression, the source of so much misery, a major cause of addiction and a strong predictor of mortality.
In order to conquer the fear of hope here are a few suggestions:
*Don’t dwell on the past; the past is over
*Be in charge of your own future.
*Be patient but not passive. Nothing happens all at once
*Trust in God to help you along the way.
As Dr. Henry Viscardi founder of the National Center for Disabilities Services writes: The tragedy of life lies not in failing to reach your goals, but having no hope and thus no goals to reach.
One of my favorite stories in Torah is the story of Joseph. A bit of a spoiled brat, Joseph was betrayed by his family, thrown into a pit and left to die. We can only surmise what Joseph was feeling in that pit, but eventually he did get out-- only to be sold into slavery. And just when everything seemed to get better and he became a servant in the House of Potiphar, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of sexual assault and he was imprisoned. Here we know Joseph had faith. The text tells us, God was with Joseph and he knew one day his torment would be over. Eventually he was vindicated and promoted to second in command in Egypt.
It doesn’t matter if the way you get to hope is through religious faith or evidence-based theory or an intuition or a well-reasoned argument, they all produce the same result—a belief in the potential for salvation in the future and the belief that there are ways we can navigate to get us there.
David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel once said that in his country if you don’t believe in miracles you are not a realist.
While Mark Manson in his book whose title cannot be spoken, gives a very good argument for why hope is hopeless, he still offers a hopeful path. Don’t hope for better. Just be better. Be something better. Be more compassionate, more resilient, more humble, more disciplined. Many people would also throw in there, be more human, but no – be a better human….”
Rise up, rise like the day
rise up, rise unafraid
rise up, and do it a thousand times again
rise up, high like the waves rise up, in spite of the ache
rise up, and do it a thousand times again
For you For you For you For you
L’Shana Tova u’metukah-- Wishing all of you a sweet and happy new year.
 Casey Gwinn and Chan Hellman. Hope Rising. (New York : Morgan James, c2019) 8
 Feldman, David B. Rand, Kevin L., Kahle-Wrobleski, Kristin. “Hope and Goal Attainment” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 28, issue 4 (2009)
 Shane J. Lopez. Making Hope Happen. (New York : Atria Books, c2013) 36
 Casey Gwinn and Chan Hellman. Hope Rising. (New York : Morgan James, c2019) 9
 Ibid. 18
 Ibid. 32
 Maurice Lamm. The Power of Hope. (New York : Fireside, 1997) 19
Jonathan Sacks. “Future Tense, How the Jews Invented Hope.” http://rabbisacks.org/future-tense-how-the-jews-invented-hope-published-in-the-jewish-chronicle/ (accessed August 2019)
 Maurice Lamm. The Power of Hope. (New York : Fireside, 1997) 47
 Ibid. 51
 Mark Manson. Everything is f’ed. (New York : Harper Collins, c2019) 12
 Ibid. 13
 Maurice Lamm. the Power of Hope (New York : Fireside, 1997) 52
 Ibid. 53
 Mark Manson. Everything is f’d (New York : Harper Collins, c2019) 15
 Ibid. 228.
Live life on life’s terms
To live life on life’s terms means to acknowledge that life is bigger and more complicated than each of us. It means accepting the reality of our lives. It means recognizing that we cannot control every aspect of our life and our environment.
In this week’s Torah portion Nitzavim Moses describes the covenant between God and Israel. Choosing to abide by that covenant is one the Israelites can make freely but in one of the more famous verses in the Torah Moses encourages the Israelites to choose wisely:
הַֽעִדתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ הַֽחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה וּבָֽחַרְתָּ בַּֽחַיִּים לְמַעַן תִּֽחְיֶה אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶֽךָ
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day; I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, if you and your offspring would live. (Deut. 30:19)
The Italian commentator Sforno understood the phrase if you and your offspring would live, to mean not so much keeping the laws for the sake of the reward you will receive, but rather for the sake of living a true life, a life of meaning.
Life can be challenging especially when it comes to managing the many trials and tribulations put in front of us. When we choose life we accept responsibility for taking on those challenges. When we choose life we make a decision to live life on life’s terms.
Circumstances do not make us who we are, they reveal to us who we are.
In life attitude is everything. We all go through difficult times or find ourselves in difficult situations in which we are faced with hard choices. How we respond and the decisions we make during those difficult times and situations exposes much about our character.
This week’s Torah portion Ki Teitzei records a long list of laws pertaining to a variety of settings and situations that include family relationships, work, sexuality, and daily living. In one example, the Torah instructs,
כִּי־תִֽהְיֶ֨יןָ לְאִ֜ישׁ שְׁתֵּ֣י נָשִׁ֗ים הָֽאַחַ֤ת אֲהוּבָה֙ וְהָֽאַחַ֣ת שְׂנוּאָ֔ה וְיָֽלְדוּ־ל֣וֹ בָנִ֔ים הָֽאֲהוּבָ֖ה וְהַשְּׂנוּאָ֑ה וְהָיָ֛ה הַבֵּ֥ן הַבְּכֹ֖ר לַשְּׂנִיאָֽה: וְהָיָ֗ה בְּיוֹם הַנְחִיל֣וֹ אֶת־בָּנָ֔יו אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־יִֽהְיֶ֖ה ל֑וֹ לֹ֣א יוּכַ֗ל לְבַכֵּר֙ אֶת־בֶּן־הָ֣אֲהוּבָ֔ה עַל־פְּנֵ֥י בֶן־הַשְּׂנוּאָ֖ה הַבְּכֹֽר:
If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved and both have borne him sons, he is not allowed to treat the son of the unloved wife who happens to be the older son, with disdain. He must give him what is rightfully his as the first born son. (Deut. 21:15-16)
If a father favors his younger son over his older son, he is confronted with a difficult decision when it comes to the rights of that older son --give him what is rightfully his or deny him what is rightfully his. Whatever decision the father makes will have nothing to do with the circumstance in which he finds himself but will instead reveal much about the father’s character. Circumstances do not make us who we are they reveal to us who we are.
The 12-step slogan If God seems further away, who moved? refers to times in our lives when we feel distant from God. Overcome by that feeling of detachment, we might have a tendency to believe it is God who has moved away from us. But this is not the case. God hasn’t gone anywhere. It is instead we who through our thoughts and our actions have moved further away from God.
In this week’s Torah portion Ekev, Moses warns the Israelites about becoming complacent, that it is possible that after settling in Canaan they will grow distant from God and so forget about God and following God’s laws.
Once they are no longer wandering the desert and are enjoying a certain amount of prosperity the Israelites may begin to feel a bit high and mighty and so put God out of their mind. They may come to believe כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי עָשָׂה לִי אֶת־הַחַיִל הַזֶּֽה – My own power and the might of my own hand have won wealth for me (Deut. 8:17.)
Their distance from God will be their own choice for if God seems far away, it is surely not God who moved.