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7.28.2017 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri Jul 28, 2017 7:10 pm
by RabbiMark
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly,
but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
― Maya Angelou

Sometimes I need to remind myself that:
Change is really, really hard. Change is terrifying. Change is inevitable.

This has been (and continues to be) a summer of incredible change and transition for me and my family. In a matter of months I was ordained as a rabbi, became a father, and moved to the other side of the country to start a new job… And with each transition - each new aspect of my identity - comes new anxieties and unexpected fears.

This week’s parashah, Devarim, represents tremendous change and transition for the Israelites, as they are, finally, about to enter the promised land - without Moses, their teacher, leader, and guide. I cannot even begin to imagine how terrifying this moment must be for them. The Israelites have no choice but to continue on their journey to a new land and a new way of life without the person who has led them up to this point.

God knows that it would be easier for the Israelites to become complacent to the challenges of the wilderness, to look at the approaching changes and say, “Nope, I’m good.” How often in our own lives are we confronted with a period of tremendous change and think to ourselves how easy it would be to simply avoid or ignore the transition, refusing to change ourselves. In response to this anxiety and the propensity of the human spirit to become complacent in the face of difficult challenge, God offers a simple directive in Deuteronomy 1:29, saying, “Have no fear or dread” of the challenges to come.

This is a lot easier said than done. Fear has the potential to cripple us in the face of oncoming transition and change. Our Torah portion reminds us that despite the inevitable waves of change and new challenges that come with any moment of transition, we are not alone in our struggle. God is addressing the entire nation and telling them outright that they have nothing to worry about, as long as they face their challenges head-on.

What’s more, our parashah is telling us that engaging in the struggles that come with change is a holy act in and of itself. Rashi, a medieval French commentator, writes that the “fear” and the “dread” of which God warns us is actually a fear of being broken by the challenges and enemies that bubble forth in times of transition. He goes on to say that, when we approach our struggles along with God and our community, we are better equipped to tackle any obstacle. We are more likely to face our challenges and come out the other side, whole.

This fact is illustrated in the conclusion of our Torah portion. Deuteronomy 3:22 reads, “Do not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who will battle for you.” The reasons for fearing the unknown begin to fade the moment we let go and let God and our fellows into our lives. This whole “God doing battle for you” thing really does work if we remember to allow God and community into our lives in moments of transition, in moments of vulnerability. I find that accepting life on its own terms becomes much more manageable when I remember to let God and my fellows in.

And I cannot help returning to our Maya Angelou quote: “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” We become the people we want to be in the world by facing the unknown challenges before us alongside our loved ones, community, and God. As I transition into my role at Beit T’Shuvah I cannot help but find solace in the idea that I - and my family - will have this incredible community with which to confront the inevitable challenges to come. And together, we all will become better, stronger, and more ready to face whatever obstacles stand our way. And that is beautiful.

I look forward to learning from and with all of you in the months and years to come.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Andy Markowitz