Reflections from Jerusalem Parashat Devarim 5778

Hi friends!  My time in Israel is winding down and I am getting ready to head back to the US in a few days.  My experience here has been very rich and meaningful.  I spent most of my time in Jerusalem except for a day in Tel Aviv and in Haifa.  I read about but did not witness the attacks in the South of Israel.  Thank you to those of you who reached out to make sure I was safe.  The learning I did with many rabbis of all denominations was fascinating and inspiring and I am looking forward to sharing it with you in sermons, classes, and in my writing.

In my last week here I am reflecting on the experience of visiting places at which something meaningful occurred in my past.

 Standing in these places helps me access the memories of that place in a way that is much more poignant than simply recalling the memory.  As I stand in these places I imagine a younger version of myself at a particular life stage experiencing the world at that time.

This week, as we begin the final book of the Torah, Deuteronomy or Devarim, we read Moses’ final speech to the Israelites before they enter the Land of Israel.  I imagine the Israelites experiencing a sense of nostalgia as they sit on the Plains of Moav looking towards their future home and thinking about what brought them to that moment.

Moses reviews for the people a variety of the experiences they have had together. Many of these accounts include stories of disappointment and irresponsible behavior like the battle against the Amorites at Hormah in Seir.  Moses reminds them of that moment: “Again you wept before the Lord; but the Lord would not heed your cry or give ear to you.” (1:44-45) And yet, Moses also reminds Israel of the blessings they received along the way: “Indeed, the Lord your God has blessed you in all your undertakings.  God has watched over your wanderings through this great wilderness; the Lord your God has been with you these past forty years; you have lacked nothing.” (2:7)

I have always been fascinated by the fact that most of the fifth book of the Torah is dedicated to retelling many of the stories in the first four books.  It is, of course, repetitive, but not unnecessary.  In its context, the final speech by Moses reminds the Israelites of who they are and where they have come from.  A desire to immediately enter the land of Canaan and achieve their destiny keeps them from being present in the magnitude of the moment.  Taking the time to stop and remember allows them to reflect on where they came from and the importance of the next stage not just in their lives but in the future of the Jewish people.  Moses reminds them of this by reviewing their journey together.

Perhaps in our world of fast paced action and constant activity, we need a reminder to stop and take a break to review our paths to the present. This review offers us a necessary break to allow the accessing of memories, which influence our identities and our journeys.  When we actively remember our past we help form our present selves.  I have tried during my time in Israel to reflect on some of the past experiences I have had in Israel, which have helped to shape the person I have become.

Jerusalem has been a city that I have returned to at different stages of my life.  Each return has helped me experience the changes that have occurred since the last time I was there.  The places themselves are meaningful because of the memory attached to them.  Attached is a picture of Yemin Moshe, a neighborhood in Jerusalem, overlooking the ancient walls of the Old City.  One morning this week, after dropping my children off at camp, I walked home a different way, passing these steps.  To anyone seeing these steps for the first time they may be amazed by the beauty of the view of the Tower of David in the background and the running water moving down the steps of Jerusalem stone.

However, I add to this image a memory of my 16 year old self praying Kabbalat Shabbat with the setting sun on USY Pilgrimage.  This past Shabbat, Josh Kirschner, Shaarei Tikvah’s USY president, joined us for Shabbat meals on his weekend off from USY Pilgrimage.  Seeing him and hearing about his experiences reminded me of my own as a USYer.  And that gave me reason to go back and visit one of the sites in my memory, helping me feel those emotions from that summer 20 years ago.

Israel is a place that some of us literally come back to, while others visit for the first time and “go back to” the memories of their ancestors.  During our synagogue trip in February 2019, I am excited to experience these memories with our participants while creating new memories for years to come.  I am thrilled to be leading my second trip to Israel with Shaarei Tikvah, and met with our tour guide this week to review an amazing itinerary!

Additionally- please join me this Saturday night as we commemorate the painful and sad memories of the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of the Jewish people among other tragic events that occurred on Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av.  Remembering these sad events gives us the opportunity to remember Jerusalem as a home for different generations of Jews–a home with memories of a place that existed and was lost multiple times.  And yet, the memories of that place continued to pass their way down one generation to the next as we recalled our people’s collective memories.

This summer, I hope we can all find some time to slow down and visit a meaningful place from a memory of the past.  Sit down and breathe it in.  Think about the ways in which it played a role in your life and your journeys.  Perhaps by remembering and feeling what once was, it will help us to feel more grounded today and help us on the path ahead.

Have a wonderful week and I hope to see you soon.

Rabbi Adam





















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