Monday, December 20, 2021

A Forest Wedding

In a quiet glade in the forest, Janet the elk lived with her parents. She had recently met two potential suitors, and was planning to bring each back to meet her parents. Janet had grown fond of each in their way and was having trouble decided which one’s proposal to accept.

The first afternoon, she brought along a deer named Harvey. Harvey arrived late and stomped into the glade without a single word of apology. Janet and her parents served a lovely meal of clover salad, ivy blanched in pond water, and a dessert of assorted acorns. Harvey barely ate, complaining that back in his part of the forest they knew how to cook properly and this was all much too poorly seasoned for his taste. When Janet’s parents asked what he did for a living, he merely snorted and grumbled about having beaten all the other deer his age in fights and how that entitled him not to have to worry about silly things like earning a living. The evening ended abruptly when Harvey caught sight of another buck off in the woods and dashed off to pick a fight.

The next afternoon, Janet brought along a moose named Christopher. The family had just finished setting up another meal when Christopher arrived, bringing along a bouquet of daisies and a fresh bottle of sparkling spring water. The family sat down to eat together, and Christopher had nothing but praise for the food and the glade. Over a very pleasant meal, they talked about recent happenings in the forest, as well as Christopher’s travels to the nearby national park where he volunteered, helping the smaller mammals cross the busy roads safely. By the end of the meal, Janet and her parents had an invitation to come visit Christopher and his herd by the waterfall. As the sun began to sink behind the trees, Christopher bid them a fond farewell and headed back home.

Janet’s parents briefly conferred in hushed tones, and then returned to say to her:

馃幍We wish you would marry Chris Moose. We wish you would marry Chris Moose. We wish you would marry Chris Moose, and not Harvey the Deer.馃幍

Friday, September 24, 2021

D’var Sukkot Shabbat Chol Hamoed

Exodus 33:12-34:26

This Saturday falls in the middle of the observance of Sukkot, so has a special parsha. We read from the book of Exodus from the end of chapter 33 into the beginning of 34. This is shortly after the incident with the golden calf.

Moses is speaking with God. Among the requests he makes is to behold God’s presence.

讜ַ讬ֹּ֗讗诪ֶ专 讗ֲ谞ִ֨讬 讗ַ注ֲ讘ִ֤讬专 讻ׇּ诇־讟讜ּ讘ִ讬֙ 注ַ诇־驻ָּ谞ֶ֔讬讱ָ 讜ְ拽ָ专ָ֧讗转ִֽ讬 讘ְ砖ֵׁ֛诐 讛’

And God answered, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name LORD.” (Exodus 33:19)

God then tells Moses he will have him go into a cleft in the rock, where God will shield Moses until God has passed by. God adds:

讜ַ讛ֲ住ִ专ֹ转ִ讬֙ 讗ֶ转־讻ַּ驻ִּ֔讬 讜ְ专ָ讗ִ֖讬转ָ 讗ֶ转־讗ֲ讞ֹ专ָ֑讬 讜ּ驻ָ谞ַ֖讬 诇ֹ֥讗 讬ֵ专ָ讗ֽ讜ּ

Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:23)

A few verses later after God has done this, what Moses declares may sound quite familiar:

讛’ ׀ 讛’ 讗ֵ֥诇 专ַ讞֖讜ּ诐 讜ְ讞ַ谞ּ֑讜ּ谉 讗ֶ֥专ֶ讱ְ 讗ַ驻ַּ֖讬ִ诐 讜ְ专ַ讘־讞ֶ֥住ֶ讚 讜ֶ讗ֱ诪ֶֽ转׃ 谞ֹ爪ֵ֥专* 讞ֶ֙住ֶ讚֙ 诇ָ讗ֲ诇ָ驻ִ֔讬诐 谞ֹ砖ֵׂ֥讗 注ָ讜ֺ֛谉 讜ָ驻ֶ֖砖ַׁ注 讜ְ讞ַ讟ָּ讗ָ֑讛 讜ְ谞ַ拽ֵּ讛:

The LORD! the LORD! a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin. (Exodus 34:6-7)

This is a prayer that we just heard during the High Holidays! But how did Moses understand this from God briefly passing by?

The answer may lie in just what God has said. Consider the phrases:

“I will make all My goodness pass by you”


“You will see My back; but My face must not be seen”

What do these tell us? God isn’t a corporeal being like us. There’s no here or there for God to pass between. Rather, God’s “goodness” or effects may be seen. Some say that God’s “back” is, in fact, the results of God’s presence – the after effects of God having somehow drawn near. These ripples and echoes may then be seen.

When God has passed by, Moses is able to discern what we call the “thirteen attributes of God” from what is left behind in God’s wake, so to speak. What can this teach us?

Here is what I learn from this passage: something or someone does not need to be directly observed to be understood, at least in part, for the truly astute observer. While you cannot understand the whole from what is left behind, you may still learn a great deal through careful inspection. 

Thinking back on the very early days of creation, we read:

讜ַ讬ֹּ֣讗诪ֶ专 讗ֱ诇ֹ讛ִ֔讬诐 谞ַֽ注ֲ砖ֶׂ֥讛 讗ָ讚ָ֛诐 讘ְּ爪ַ诇ְ诪ֵ֖谞讜ּ 讻ִּ讚ְ诪讜ּ转ֵ֑谞讜ּ

 And God said, “Let us make people in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)

This almost certainly doesn’t mean physical similarities, but perhaps more behavioral attributes. Could it be referring to our ability to have a similar effect on the world as God does in this week’s parsha?

For certain, each one of us may be understood from the ripples and effects we have on the world around us. Do we improve the world in our passing by it? Are we instead content to track muddy footprints all over and leave one mess after another? (Did you know I have kids, by the way?) In the long run, the mark we leave says much about us.

As we move through life, we must remain aware of the impacts we have and how the world changes for having us in it. Long after we are gone, the evidence of the kind of people we were will still be discernible in the echoes left behind. We, like God, would do well to be “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness …, [and] forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.” Then, when the keen eyes of future generations look to understand us, they will say that the world was a better place for having us in it.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Scolding of Moses

Preparing for our seder this year, a thought struck me as I recalled the story of the Exodus from Egypt. What if Moses wasn’t supposed to run away to Midian? And how much more suffering was there because he did?

The Verse Where It Happened

In Exodus 2:11-15 we learn that Moses saves a Hebrew slave by killing the taskmaster, but then flees from Egypt. As we learn in Exodus 2:23 he remained away for “a long time.”

Imagine: a person in a position of power becomes aware of an injustice, decides it must be corrected, acts rashly, and then… leaves. Then, they remain away for a long time. This does not seem to be a story of triumph that stirs us to action when read this way.