Leave It To Cleavers: Vaethanan 2017
by Adam J. Rosenbaum
Pre-Game Chatter: When have you been rewarded for your continuing faith in someone or something? In such cases, were you among many who maintained your faith, or only among a select few?
As Moses’ closing soliloquy continues, he insists that the surviving Israelites still stand because they refused to be tempted by mass idolatry:
The Pitch: “You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did in the matter of Baal-peor, that the Lord your God wiped out from among you every person who followed Baal-peor; while you, who held fast [cleaved] to the Lord your God, are all alive today.” – Deuteronomy 4:3-4
Swing #1: “The philosophers hold various views concerning whether man can achieve communion with God. Some hold that, at best, man can commune with Him indirectly, through an angel. Others believe that communion with God cannot be achieved in life but only after death. Still others, though conceding that exceptional individuals can achieve it even in life, insist that it is impossible for an entire people to attain this lofty moral level, and some say that communion with God can be attained only after long years of struggle and toil. None of the above views is in agreement with the Torah. … It is in order to refute all the false notions mentioned above that the Scripture states: ‘while you, who held fast to the Lord your God’ – this means that you can commune with the Lord directly, without need for an angel – ‘are … alive’ – you can commune with God in your lifetime; there is no need to wait until after death – ‘all’ – every one of you, and not just exceptional individuals, can attain to it – ‘today’ – and it can happen this very day – even today if you only you will listen to His voice.” – Kanfei Nesharim
Swing #2: “The main idea of cleaving to God, [Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk] suggests, is that there be no interposition, no barrier whatsoever, between the self and God. Only this absence of a barrier can enable the possibility of d’vekut [clinging, being one with God]. He offers a parable in the name of the Ba’al Shem Tov. It is impossible to glue two pieces of silver to one another without first ‘scraping off’ or scouring the two surfaces; otherwise, there would be nothing to which the glue might adhere. Only then can fusion occur. He cites this verse from Isaiah 41:7, ‘The woodworker encourages the smith; he says of the fusion “It is good.”’ Thus, they are made one. … In the same way, one who would cleave to God must also first prepare his or her soul so that there will be no trace of rust or any other barrier that might be in the way. Only then will the person at last be freed from grabbing onto other distractions and be able to cleave continually to God.” – Lawrence Kushner and Nehemia Polen, from My People’s Prayer Book, Volume 4: Seder K’riat HaTorah (The Torah Service)
Swing #3: “[According to the scribal tradition] the letter “kuf” of this phrase is written with three crownlets. This is an allusion to the hundred blessings that each person is obligated to recite every day.” – Ba’al HaTurim
Late-Inning Questions: The second verse in the excerpt above is recited prior to every public Torah reading. Based on the context of the verse, and the commentaries above, do you believe this is suitable? Why or why not?
On-Deck at Emanu-El: We still have many copies of Mahzor Lev Shalem, our new High Holiday prayer book, waiting to be dedicated. Help us to fill our pews with this innovative and illuminating volume, which will add meaning to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for many years to come.
The Big Inning at the End: Congratulations to Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, John Schuerholz, and Bud Selig on their induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame last weekend. As much as these five men deserved this honor, there is still a logjam of other deserving players and contributors (Trevor Hoffman, Vladimir Guerrero, Edgar Martinez, and Alan Trammell immediately come to mind), but hopefully this will be remedied in coming years.