In Order to Inhabit: The Week's End July 21, 2023
Jul 21st 2023

This week, we begin a new sefer - a new book of Torah, Devarim - Deuteronomy. My dad had a quote he loved that he must have learned in high school German class - “Aller anfang ist shwer,” every beginninging is hard. This is the beginning of the book and also the beginning of the end of the Torah. 

In the sixth pasuk - verse, we read

יְהֹוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֵ֛ינוּ דִּבֶּ֥ר אֵלֵ֖ינוּ בְּחֹרֵ֣ב לֵאמֹ֑ר רַב־לָכֶ֥ם שֶׁ֖בֶת בָּהָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה׃

Our God יהוה spoke to us at Horeb, saying: You have stayed long enough at this mountain.

It seems that God is concerned that the people might get too comfortable with what is familiar and not have the courage to move forward into the unknown, into the land of Israel. Sound familiar? I am a creature of habit, and I like things to be just so, ensuring that I am comfortable and safe. This seems reasonable and probably pretty commonly felt. When I am at ease, I can be most effective. I think that I can also be productive while enlivened by the challenge of a change. As much as I like to be comfortable and know as many details as possible about what is coming, I am also deeply appreciative of growing and do my best to put myself in contexts regularly that will challenge me to notice the ways I have become fixed in my thinking and behaviors. 

This pasuk - verse 6, reminds of the phrase ‘leave taking,’ written by Rabbi Alan Lew z”l in his book Be Still and Get Going. Rabbi Lew draws from examples in the Torah when our ancestors, including Avraham, Ya’acov and Moshe, had to leave (run away) from what they knew (home), ostensibly for safety, or because they were commanded, but also just in order to progress their story, in order to grow. Rabbi Lew speaks about the importance of leaving home, or leaving what we know, disrupting our habituated ways in order to be able to inhabit our bodies and our lives. He also states that it is during these moments of ‘leave taking’ that our ancestors experienced Divine encounters. I want that: to seize every opportunity to meet the Divine. 

It takes some courage to move when where I am seems just fine, but I don’t want to be a fossil. I want to be a reflection of the Divine Torah, an Etz Chayim: a living, breathing, flourishing tree, with strong roots and ever growing branches out into the world. 

With caring blessings for your leave-takings and for this Shabbat Devarim.

Shabbat shalom