Divrei Torah About Inclusion: Sefer Devarim
This Shabbat we read Parshat Devarim. It is also Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av.Parshat Devarim is about the journey Bnei Yisroel took in the desert. They wandered the desert for 40 years (really the distance was short and it could have taken them a few weeks at most.) They wander the desert as a punishment for listening to the spies, the meraglim, who spoke badly about Eretz Yisroel. At first the Jewish people saw giants and desert. A land they did not hav3e faith that Hashem would help conquer for them. After the 40 years, the Jews are essentially reborn. This was their period of 40 that corresponds to the 40 weeks of gestation it takes for a baby to be born. After the 40 years Bnei Yisroel recognizes the land of Israel as beautiful, filled with crops, and a gift from Hashem. Then they are ready to enter the land. Like Bnei Yisroel in the desert it is easy for us to take things and people at face value. Not giving ourselves the time to look inside another person and appreciate the good in each other. We need to always remember to step back and see the good in each person. And see what unique thing they contribute to Klal Yisroel. By doing that we can fully include everyone in our community.
The rabbis teach that the main reason the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed was Sinat Chinam, hatred of man to his fellow Jew. The Jews were talking badly about their neighbors, they were pre-judging and not looking inside to see the good in each person. As we enter Shabbat and then commemorate Tisha B’Av, let us strive to include everyone in our klal and appreciate the special talent in each of us.
This week we read the Parsha of Va’Etchanan. In this parsha the aseret hadibrot, the 10 commandments, are repeated to Bnei Yisroel. The commandments were given to all of Bnei Yisroel, young, old, males, females, challenged or typical. Hashem did not separate out some people and say that they were not deserving and therefore could not receive the Torah. All of Bnei Yisroel received it equally.
Later in the parsha, we are instructed to teach our children about our mesorah, our heritage. Again Hashem instructs us to teach all of our children. There is a concept of teaching each child according to the best way that they learn. Children learn in different modalities: visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic. When passing the Torah and its lessons down to our children, we need to use every method available to us to ensure that they can learn what we teach.
As we celebrate Shabbat this week, remember that like the Torah, every Jew is included in the giving and receiving of the Torah and every person will be truly included if we can ensure that they understand Hashem’s message by teaching them in the way that they can learn.
In Parshat Eikev Moshe is told to carve a second set of luchot, tablets and to make an ark to hold them in. Hashem easily could have done this himself, but he wanted Moshe to understand the value of doing an act and to understand that the effort that you put into an act is important. When we are with people with different skill sets, it is sometimes easier for us to just do the task on our own. We think that we don not have to make the person go through the effort. But it is the effort that becomes important. In fact it is the lesson to teach us that each of us has skills and is capable of fulfilling their task. We need to believe in ourselves and in other people that Hashem gives each of us the ability to accomplish our own tasks.
In Parshat Reah Bnei Yisroel is getting prepared to enter Eretz Yisroel. Hashem instructs them not to add or to subtract from the mitzvot. Hashem tells us that the Torah is whole and perfect the way it has been given to us. We do not need to change the Torah to make it work for us. We still need to understand and follow the mitzvot.
This can be seen as a lesson on how to view the people of Klal Yisroel. Hashem has fashioned each of us in our own unique, perfect way. We must strive to be the best that we each can be (similar to striving to do the mitzvot in the best fashion that we can). We should not look at another person as lacking. Strive to see the abilities and talents that each person brings and by understanding the Hashem sees us each as whole and perfect in his eyes, we will understand that Klal Yisroel is whole and perfect.
In Parshat Shoftim, we are commanded to place judges at the gates of our cities. This is to remind the people living there to be righteous and keep the mitzvot. There are 7 gates around each city, like today’s 7 gates around Jerusalem.
Siftei Chachamim says the body is the person’s personal city and has 7 gates: 2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 nostrils, 1 mouth. We use these gates to internally judge ourselves and keep track that we are doing the mitzvot.
The Torah says that all Jews are able to keep an internal reckoning that we are following the mitzvot. Regardless of our abilities or challenges. We each have these 7 gates to use according to Hashem. Some of our gates may be stronger than others, but we rely on the stronger gate to compensate for one that is weaker. We need to daily remind ourselves to use our gates and better ourselves through Hashem’s mitzvot. As we have entered Chodesh Elul this past week. We are now in a time that we have the opportunity to internally judge ourselves and how we kept the mitzvot this past year. What we find lacking we have the chance to ask teshuva, forgiveness, and try to improve. Everyone, no matter who we are, has places for improvement and we can help each other improve our actions together, B’Yachad. In doing this during the month of Elul we prepare all of Klal Yisroel to follow Hashem’s mitzvot better in the coming year.
Parshat Ki Teitzei discusses laws related to family values. The family is kodesh, holy, in the eyes of Hashem and the Sanctity of the family is of upmost importance. The Torah teaches many laws pertaining to the unity of the family and the respect of each member within the family. One of the laws that teach us respect is shiluach haken- sending the mother bird always from her nest before taking her eggs. The Torah teaches us that taking the eggs in front of the mother would cause the mother bird undue distress. The Torah is Teaching us that we need to Respect all creatures, even the seemingly unimportant bird.
We can further this thought by remembering that we are all members of the family of Klal Yisroel. Each of us is important and needs to be respected. The mitzvot in this Parshah are given to each and every one of us and by fulfilling them to the best of our ability we can form a strong Jewish Klal. Performing the mitzvot teach us respect for each of us and the importance of everyone in the eyes of Hashem. Despite any of our failings, large or small, respect is the key to creating an inclusive nation of Israel.
In Parshat Ki Tavo we are taught about our connection as the nation of Yisroel to Hashem. Hashem tells us that to form this connection we must make an altar to Him out of stones that are whole. In Parshat Terumah we learned that we ourselves are the alter, the Mikdash, and by following the mitzvot we make ourselves holy and an altar. In this parsha, Hashem is telling us again to be whole and that each of us is a whole person, valued by Hashem. We are told to live and lead by example and to help our fellow man become this whole person as well. The parsha specifically tells us that Bnei Yisroel will be cursed if we do not help each other – we will be cursed if we cause a blind man to go astray. We need to show each person their specific way, according to their abilities. By helping each other become our whole valued selves, we will then be united to be a complete whole Klal Yisroel.
At the end of the parsha we are told what will happen when we fulfill this direction to make ourselves whole. We then become a complete nation, working together, Hashem will give us a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear. Collectively we become a caring, loving nation who understand that only by including everyone with their specific talents and abilities, can we become a complete nation.
In Parshah Nitzavim Bnei Yisriel are commanded to stand and be counted. Everyone is given this commandment. We all are counted and accountable and all make a whole Klal Yisroel. We are All responsible for each other. We don’t function unless everyone functions. Hashem gave the Torah to everyone, we were all at Har Sinai together.
Everyone accepted the Torah. Not just the pretty people, not just the skinny people, not just the smart people. People who could walk or could not walk, see or not see, hear or not hear. All of us together, standing as one unit. As we start This Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah let us remember to come together as one nation, one unit, b’yachad. Hashem will hear our collective tephillot and iyh answer our prayers.
Shabbat Shalom and Shannah Tova Umetukah.
Parshat Vayelech talks about the idea of togetherness a few times. In the beginning of the parsha Hashem tells Bnei Yisroel “chizku v’emtzu” be strong and courageous as you enter the land of Israel. Moshe then repeats these words, “Chazak veematz”. Be strong and courageous, to Joshua when he transfers the leadership of Klal Yisroel to him. The message is be strong and courageous together, go forth together. Everyone has challenges but facing them together as a nation, helping each other, we can overcome them and go forth together.
Hashem also commands Bnei Yisroel to gather together every seven years (at the end of the shmeetah year) to read the entire Torah as a whole nation. The key here is gathering together. It is not enough to live your life solo, to keep the mitzvot by yourself. Why gather together? To remind us that we need to be one unified nation- one group before Hashem, b’yachad. Helping each other, taking care of each other, working together to do the mitzvot and form a true Klal Yisroel.
Parshat HaAzinu begins with the message “haazeynu Hashamayim v’adaberah tshma haaretz imrei pi”. Moshe is asking the heavens and earth to hear his tephillah and answer his prayers. Moshe is asking Bnei Yisroel to communicate with Hashem: through tephillah, through thoughts, through any means available to the person. Hashem does not ask the person to say a Particular formula, not even to say words out loud. We learned in the haftorah on Rosh Hashanah when Chanah prayed to Hashem for a child- she prayed but no words came out. Hashem did not need to “hear” the words- He accepted the tephillah that was in Chanah’s heart.
So too here Moshe is telling Bnei Yisroel to communicate and pray to Hashem. Moshe is not telling us how to pray but saying that the important thing is establishing the communication with Hashem. In any method you can.
As we include all members in the community, remember that each of us is created by Hashem. Each of us has a unique way to pray and each of us has a unique way to communicate and connect with Hashem.
The Torah ends with Parshat Zot Habrachah, read on Simchat Torah each year. In this parsha, we learn how Moshe is allowed to view Eretz Yisroel from afar. He is not allowed to enter the land as he sinned against Hashem and this was his punishment. Moshe does not argue with Hashem, he accepts his fate as the wish of Hashem. We too must look at what Hashem gives us and accept it as a bracha- even if it disappoints us at times, even if it does not make us happy. We accept Hashem’s love for each of us no matter what and must thank Hashem for all that he does. If Moshe is able to accept this decree then so must we. We immediately begin to read the parsha of Bereshit. Even though Hashem does not always give us the bracha that we want, or we do not always understand Hashem’s bracha to us, we must still recognize that Hashem created the world and put us in it to serve him. By doing this we realize that we are not alone but are all part of a greater community and serve Hashem B’yachad.