What We Can Do This New Year

By: Michael Carr

In this Torah portion, Moses continues his speech to the Israelites. He tells them they will have to annihilate people who are not believers in God. Moses reminds them not to forget God’s commandments even after they enter the land of Israel, and that they must continue to fear God. The Torah portion also mentions the second part of the Shema: “…(we should) serve G-d with all y(our) heart & all y(our) soul”. 

Following the ‘respectful Shema reminder’ to the Israelites, Moses emphasizes the need to put all that we have into serving God by directing the Israelites to ‘circumcise their hearts’.  Of course, this is a metaphorical rather than a literal request, reminding the Israelites of their part in the divine-human covenant which mandates fidelity and exclusivity in the relationship between God and the Chosen People.

The underlying message here is that the Israelites should maintain their vulnerability to & awe of God by opening their hearts to a spiritual connection with the Divine – but that they should not be opening their hearts to the gods worshiped by those around them. Moses reminds the Israelites of this obligation through specific directives that will help them to avoid the temptation to join in the practices of idol worshippers in the land they are about to conquer whom God calls “an abomination upon the land,” and who are to be “wiped out” by the Israelites upon their entry into the “Land of Milk & Honey.”

It is quite likely that many Israelites did hold doubts within their hearts regarding what would occur upon their entry into the promised land. Many of them probably needed to strengthen their beliefs in the existence of only one God. Moses understood this and helps them by rebuking and reminding them of their parents and grandparents past failings as a people – from their creation of a Golden calf after Moses disappears upon Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights – to their doubts about God’s ability to enable them to stand strong against the people of the land, put out by 10 of the 12 advance scouts sent to “spy out the land. And then, of course, the was the constant complaining by all of the Israelites during their desert travels – complaints about thirst, hunger, and their longing for better living conditions, all the while nagging Moses with that timeless question of traveling children everywhere: “Are we there yet?”

In doing this, Moses was explaining to this new generation of Israelites about their nation’s shared purpose: to be faithful to the one God who created the universe and to follow the teachings of God’s Torah – the two most important elements of our Jewish culture. Of course, for most of these younger Israelites, who had not been present at the giving of the 10 Commandments, this was the first time they were hearing about these concepts and ideals in any organized fashion. These beliefs were ones that had to be learned, practiced, and reinforced with each new generation during their travels since they were an evolving community that would now have to make its new home in Israel after 40 years of wandering around the Sinai dessert.

With the new Jewish year almost upon us once again, perhaps this is a good time for all of us to consider ways that we can continue to grow and expand in our Jewish beliefs, purpose, values, and practices. For example:  Can we add the Shabbat candle blessings to our weekly Jewish practices?  Is there an opportunity to learn and read a Torah portion or to lead the Torah service?  Where and how can we give back to our larger Jewish – and non-Jewish – community? 

While this is a brief list to consider for the new year, at least it’s a start in thinking about way to give thanks for everything we’ve achieved while demonstrating our appreciation and respect for our community, our cultural heritage, and, of course, our Creator.

Shabbat Shalom!