V’Etchanan, “A Different way of Perceiving”
Moses pleads to God and asks to be able to cross over from Jordan in order to see the Spirit of God in the Promised Land. Yet, his future is to die on Mt. Nevo, after a long life full of actively seeking justice and freedom, never to set foot in the Land of Israel. Rachel the poet describes his eternal loneliness and pain on Mt. Nevo. Juxtaposed - Rahel The heart listens, the ear attuned, Will he come? With every expectation There is the sadness of Mt. Nevo One beach opposite the other On one riverbank Rock decrees Parted forever Stretch your wings, see opposite Over there, no one comes. Each person and her Mt. Nevo On the vast land. Yet can we ponder the depths of this need and desire to be heard by a truly listening ear? Can we pierce the loneliness of isolation from other peoples, our neighbors? According to Rahel the Poet, the lack of a listening ear can cause the sadness of Mt. Nevo. With the conflict in our region in politics, on news broadcasts, in the papers we choose to read, are really attuned to hear other points of view, or are we looking simply to reinforce our own views?
“The Holy One spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain.” (Deuteronomy 5:4) Moses and God spoke to each other face to face, the I-Thou encounter, and seeing the Godly in the other. Rashi on the encounter on Mt. Sinai explains, “And all the people saw- teaches that there was not one blind person, not one who could not speak, as it says, and the entire People answered. And how do we know that there was not one deaf person? Because it is said, we will do and we will hear. Saw the voices- they saw what could be heard, what could not be seen in another place. With the intensity of the conflict both among ourselves and in our region, do we “see the voices” of the Other, what cannot be seen in a another place? Do we use extraordinary senses in order to tune in? I believe that we also learn from this extraordinary Parasha which includes a retelling of the giving of the 10 commandments. Perhaps we need to retell the 10 commandments again and again so that we never become blind and deaf to the Other in society. Perhaps these commandments are a lesson in how to see and how to hear. Recently there was severe violence and destruction in Israel in the cities where Jews and Arabs have lived peacefully and in coexistence. There was tension at the places of work and cooperation such as hospitals where the staff consists of doctors, nurses, staff and patients who speak Arabic and Hebrew, who practice Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Perhaps what the giving of the law is truly revealing to us is that we all need not to covet each other’s piece of and peace of heart and mind. Coexistence is not only not stealing, nor murdering; it is also honoring the OTHER’s mother and father and respecting the OTHER’s family and property. Another poet, Haim Gouri’s heart goes out to the Other’s mother in his poem, “His Mother”, referring to Sisera’s mother, after battle:
His Mother - Haim Gouri
It was years a go, at the end of Deborah’s Song, I heard the silence of Sisera’s chariot so long in coming, I watch Sisera’s mother captured in the window, a woman with a silver streak in her hair. A spoil of multi-hued embroideries, two for the throat of each despoiler. This is what the maidens saw. That very hour he lay in the tent as one asleep. His hands quite empty. On his chin traces of milk, butter, blood. The silence was not broken by the horses and chariots. The maidens, too, fell silent one by one. My silence reached out to theirs. After a while sunset. After a while the afterglow is gone. Forty years the land knew peace. Forty years no horses galloped, no dead horsemen stared glassily. But her death came soon after her son’s. Let us return to a society that cares about the Other’s mother, as much as we care about our own. Revelation is revealing a deep honoring of the other’s Torah, holy days, not stealing from one another, not assaulting one another, not wishing for what the other has, but honoring the One God who binds and blesses us all. “Face to face the Creator spoke to you on the mountain out of the fire” (Deuteronomy 5:4) Let us speak to one another as we share this earth, and let us be attuned to the pain, voice and face of the Other. Let us work in cooperation with those of other opinions, beliefs, religions, in our places of work, in our neighborhoods. There is so much more social mixing than there used to be, there is a chance to light a collective fire of hope, warmth and justice. May these hopes of social justice, righteousness and equality comfort us on Shabbat Nachamu. Shabbat Shalom.
*Rabbi Judith Edelman-Green is an innovative, creative and visionary Jewish educator and Rabbi who was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem in 2009. She has initiated and led programs which break down societal barriers and stereotypes while bridging the wide divide that separates the different religious streams of Judaism and the State of Israel. Her latest work is the field of Pastoral Care Giving a Rabbi-Chaplain. Website: www.rabbijudith.life