Hear, There, and Everywhere: Vaethanan 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What are some of your favorite quotes? Why do you like them so much? Why do you think we are drawn to famous quotes?

Our Torah portion this week contains many of Judaism’s most famous quotes, including perhaps the most famous one of all: the Shema.

The Pitch: “Hear, O Israel! Adonai is our God, Adonai alone. You shall love your God Adonai with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

Swing #1: “At first glance [Rashi’s contention that the phrase “all your might” means you must love God with your money as much as you love God with your life] seems odd. How could there be someone whose wealth is more precious to him than his body? Perhaps the answer is this: … One who hands over his money in order to dwell in distress and hardship, and the misery transports him on behalf of their Creator — a test like this is harder than risking his life.” — S’fat Emet

Swing #2: “When a Jew recites the verse ‘Hear, O Israel! Adonai is our God, Adonai alone,’ with the purpose of proclaiming God’s rule over the four ends of the earth, he must not forget to allow God to reign also over his own person.” — Rabbi Israel Salanter

Swing #3: “[King] David said: ‘I wanted to hear just what the Holy One, blessed be God, speaks about. And I heard that God speaks about peace, as it is said: “Let me hear what God, Adonai, will speak; God will promise well-being to God’s people, God’s faithful ones” (Psalms 85:9).’” — D’varim Rabbah

Late-Inning Questions: Why do you think the Shema is one of the main centerpieces of our prayer services? Do any of the above explanations enable you to understand the Shema better than you did before? Or do you prefer your own understanding? Is it easy to say the Shema without thinking about what it means? Does this mean that famous and important quotes sometimes lose their power if they are repeated frequently? How can we ensure that important quotes are properly appreciated and applied to our lives?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I’m excited for the kickoff to our 2016-2017 Adult Education program. It’s called “Or Hadash: Prayer in a New Light”, and will feature a familiar face for us: Hebrew College Cantorial and Jewish Education student Dara Rosenblatt. Join us for services Friday, August 26th, at 8:15PM services, and then on Saturday, August 27th (9:00AM Danish & D’rash, 9:30AM services). Dara will unfold the mysteries of key passages of our prayer book, as we begin a yearlong exploration of the meaning of prayer. Dara will lead Danish & D’rash as well as an alternative learner’s service during the first part of our Saturday morning prayers, followed by a brief discussion at Kiddush. Don’t miss out!

The Big Inning at the End: It’s refreshing to hear that, in the coming years, Major League Baseball will consider rule changes such as limiting the number of pitching changes a team can make in one game, restricting certain defensive shifts, and enforcing a time limit between pitches. While I don’t necessarily agree with all these ideas, it’s about time MLB realized that sports usually benefit from evolving the game rather than letting it remain stagnant. I hope that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred will approach potential changes with an openness to innovate.

Shabbat Shalom!