Sh’ma—Rav Lach – Shabbat Inspiration Va’etchanan

by Rabbi Emerita Yocheved Mintz, Congregation P’nai Tikvah, August 4, 2017

As kids, when we reached this time of summer, we have an anxiety that the season is all-too-quickly coming to its end; and we nervously anticipate the coming year.  Teachers share both emotions; and, I would venture to say, that many Jews, do as well.  The students and teachers are, of course, pretty much living by the school calendar, which, this year resumes on August 14th.  And those of us who are cognizant of the Jewish calendar, realize that if it’s Av, Elul is just around the corner and with it comes the daily shofar calls heralding the coming of Rosh HaShanah and the Yamim haNoraim, the Days of Awe.

Even our Parashah, our Torah Portion, V’Etchanan, reflects a sense of angst, as Moses, realizing that he is not going to enter the Promised Land, implores G-d for grace.  G-d’s response is interpreted as a loud and resounding “No”, but what G-d actually says is “Rav lach!”  Which means “You have so much.”

And then G-d instructs Moses to climb to the top of the mountain and look, really look, in all directions…and we sense that Moses then understands that the promise has been fulfilled….he has already arrived.

While the Parashah goes on for a recount of the Ten Commandments and the Sh’ma, our doxology affirming the one-ness of G-d, it is all within the context of approaching the Promised Land…

My colleague, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, once referred to Shabbat as “our Holiday of arrival to the Promised Land.”  Well, think about it; in a sense that’s true.  It’s the time of week where, as Rabbi Shefa Gold explains, that we intentionally “expand our consciousness wide enough to embrace the paradox that our lives are a difficult and harrowing journey filled with struggle, tragic loss and suffering, and yet, we have already arrived and each moment offers us its absolute perfection.”  All week long we’ve longed for redemption, and when we light the Shabbat candles, and we take the time to gaze into the flames, we realize we are already redeemed.

I’d like to take a few moments to have us contemplate and discuss a thought-provoking poem by Rabbi David J. Cooper, another colleague from the Renewal movement.  Please organize yourselves in groups of 4 or 5 and read the poem to one another, and then take a minute to share what message you personally get out of the poem.

(Allow time for small group discussions of following poem:)

If We Could…

–by Rabbi David J. Cooper

Our every breath we breathe is surely a wonder.
If we could only taste every sensation passing through us,
taste every breath we pulled into our lungs,
were we to refuse to allow any joy or pain
brought to any of our senses
to pass through us unexamined and unappraised,
then every breath,
every movement, every thought,
every apprehension, every fear and every caress
would be a prayer of awe.

If we could feel it all, embrace it all, love it all,
even that which we hate.
Then we would not only eat, we would taste,
we would not only hear, we would listen, we would not only be awake,
but be aware,
we would not only be standing, but upstanding,
then we would not only be released, we would be free:

Free to say our thanks, to feel our love, to feel our pain,
to struggle and to submit,
and free to inspire the breath of life infusing all matter, all
in all time and space.

When that breath is our breath,
then every breath will speak the secret holy name.


Chevreh, though the time was short…we each have had the opportunity to go to the top of the mountain and see… We are quickly approaching the end of this year of opportunity and beginning a new year filled with promise. Instead of anxiety and nervous anticipation, let us take a deep breath…let it out…and:  Breathe!  Look!  See!  Listen! Hear! Taste!   Feel!  Embrace!  Rav lanu …truly, we have so much!  Shabbat Shalom….