Torah Portion: Va’etchanan D’varim(Deut.) 3-7
Haftorah Reading: Isaiah 40:1-26
Tonight we read a Torah portion that starts with great sadness. Moshe recounts how he pleaded with G-d to allow him to enter the Land. He uses a word that conveys intense emotion – pleaded, beseeched and yet to no avail. G-d did not allow him to cross over to see that good land.
As I considered this verse this week I thought of how our lives each day are not something to be taken lightly. Our actions have consequences. Life is not a game and we get no do over. G-d is a G-d of mercy and compassion but also a G-d of justice. How we live has results that sometimes carry a heavy price. Our prayers for forgiveness for sure are heard but there may also be a price to be paid. King David is one example. G-d loved him and forgave him but there was still a result from his sin. Here in our portion we see the importance of our actions. Life is not a game but is for us to be perfected and bring us to maturity so that we can come to that place of living each moment to its spiritual fullness, that we can be G-d’s agents of showing a world His goodness, mercy and love.
We read the Shema here in this portion, Deut. 6:4-9. It also focuses us on what is important in life. It shows us that our “everything” is to be used to show a world how we love the Father. We speak of and include Him in all areas of our lives. Why do we? We do this because we love him. He is worthy of our “everything” and we have the responsibility to teach others about Him.
The word, “Shema” means to pay attention and also gather. It is saying, don’t drop off to sleep but keep all of our entire being focused everyday on Him and His will for our lives. Each day we gather our thoughts and listen. Gather every part of you and listen to Him. It is time. We are not here to kill time but to use time to grow in our faith, to bless G-d with everything in our lives. Remember time was the first thing created by G-d. King David wrote in Psalms 90:12, “So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Think of it as your bank account. Each day your account is credited with 24 hours. There are no overdrafts, no credit on tomorrow. You have the now. Time not used is gone when it passes. We can go back and rectify some things and sometimes we have second chances. However, our continued goal should be to not need those redo’s but to be focused each day on what G-d expects and desires from each of us. Sometimes that second chance makes the difference between reaching our goal and weeping for what might have been. Use time wisely everyday, every hour and every minute.
Along with time we are all given by G-d, the ability to live our life as we desire. G-d has given us free choice. To do less would have made us robots, with no choice. So how we live, how we use time, how well we listen and obey is our choice. However many times society and peer pressure pushes us to make bad decisions. I read this week of something called, “The Abilene Paradox.” It goes like this: One summer afternoon four men were setting on the porch on a 104 degree day. One suggested they drive to Abilene, 54 miles away, to eat. Everyone agreed one by one. They took the long hot drive in a car without air conditioning and had a tasteless meal. They returned exhausted. One person suggested the trip and even though they didn’t want to go, they went along because they thought everyone else wanted to go. We give in to peer pressure on what to do, what to think, how to speak or even when not to speak what we know to be true. We might go along with an idea or thought or an action when in our heart, in our spirit, we know it is not right for a believer. Remember, G-d gave each of us a brain to make decisions based on His Word, His spiritual guidance. We are the responsible ones. We decide what is right spiritually. We gather all our faculties, listen to the Father and decide for ourselves.
What should be the motivation for everything we do? We do and live each day to please G-d. Our every action should be to show our love and commitment to Him. Jean read a parable this week that makes a wonderful point on this subject. It is taken from a book called, “A Lamp of Darkness” by Dave Mason with Mike Feuer.
“There was once a man who lived in a kingdom in the middle of the desert. Everyday this man walked past the King’s palace in the morning as he went out to his field and again in the evening when he walked home. Each time he wondered, why is it that the King has so much while I have so little? His envy grew and grew until he was unable to pass the palace without anger.
The man formed a plan. He would dig a tunnel under the palace come up inside the treasury, and take a tiny amount for himself. He worked for years and years on his tunnel and as his labors grew so did his desire until he no longer felt the need to leave the King anything at all. Finally the tunnel was complete and he broke through the floor of the palace in the middle of the night. He expected to see piles of gold and gems but found himself in an empty hallway just outside the treasury. If he kept digging there was a chance he could still access the treasury and escape before dawn. But now that he had broken through the floor, fear struck his heart – he could be discovered at any time. So he fled back into his tunnel and left the palace with nothing.
It happened that a second thief, who knew nothing of the first, had formed an identical plan to rob the King and tunneled into the palace on the same night. He emerged inside the treasury itself. He saw mountains of gold and streams of jewels and filled his bags and pockets with treasure. The thief lowered his bags into the tunnel and was about to jump in when he stopped. He emptied his bags and pockets back into the treasury – leaving the palace with nothing. The next morning the two tunnels were discovered. The head of the guards came running to the King and told him what had happened. The king asked how much did they take? The guard said it is unbelievable but they took nothing. One thief missed the treasury and left with nothing. The second thief entered the treasury but we’ve counted the reserves and nothing is missing.
The kings said, I want to meet these two men. Let it be known that they will not be punished if they come forward. The thieves present themselves at the palace by day’s end. The guards brought the first thief before the King. Explain how it was that you broke into my palace and left with nothing?
The thief stood shaking before the King and said, I planned to tunnel into the royal treasury but when I came out I found I had not dug far enough. I feared that if I ventured further I would be caught so I went back into my tunnel and fled. The king said very well. Had you remained you might have caused me great loss but as it transpired you turned away from the evil. As promised you will not be punished. I reward your honesty today with your life. You may go.
The guards then escorted the second thief in. The king said explain to me how you broke in and left with nothing. The second thief dropped his head and said I did intend to rob you. When I emerged inside your treasury I filled all my bags and pockets and then when I was about to climb into the tunnel and escape an image of your face came to my mind. You have been a just and generous king to your people. I should be proud to serve such a king. How could I rob you? So I returned all the treasure to its rightful place and left the way I came.
A tear came to the king’s eye. Guard he called, “I want you to take this man into the treasury and let him take anything he wants.”
There are two ways to turn from evil. If we right our way from fear of punishment then like the first thief we are forgiven. But there is a higher way, to rectify our deeds out of a great love for our King. Then our very sins bring us merit for the Holy One knows how far along the path of evil we have gone and how great an effort it took to reverse our course. If we return in love, our tikun will be great indeed. Some of you desire the prophet’s power. You want to cry out to correct the errors of the people and when your cries are not heard you will be tempted to coerce. You must remember the Holy One seeks true service of the heart. To threaten the people, to give them a glimpse of the awesome power of the Holy One may sway them but only through fear. Yisrael is a holy nation. The task of the nevi’im (prophet) is to guide them to the highest level of service. We must awaken in them the desire to rectify their deeds out of love.”
Gather all your faculties, pay attention for a bit and see what G-d says to each of you.