Drash for ʻEikev

By Sandra Z Armstrong

I once had a dream that my 90 year old friend, Mr. David Goodman was teaching me that living a Jewish life meant choosing from a whole array of desserts like the Viennese table of scrumptious options to satisfy all your cravings. I looked over to see the table of delicious options and Mr. Goodman said choose any of these options, each one will be wonderful and go do them. Mr. Goodman was a Torah scholar who read for our synagogue Temple Israel in NJ every Shabbat.

When he came down from the bimah after Torah reading, he often had tears in his eyes from the passion and emotion of the Torah. He reminded me a lot of Rabbi Morris Goldfarb.

I sat with Mr. Goodman every week and every Shabbat he taught me how to be Jewish by just observing him. Then there was Ziggy (he and Betty were both Holocaust survivors), Harry Grant very British with a bowler hat each week, Gerald Schraub, Marvin Amsterdam, Howard Schreiber, Steve Ehrlich and Lou Messulam. It was a small Shabbat minyan that I loved very much and I knew it wouldn’t last much longer as they would eventually move far away to retirement places or pass on. I took on the membership campaign as a mitzvah because I saw that we would be losing something more precious than gold. We would be losing our steady minyan to read Torah. At the very end of Mr. Goodman’s life, I visited him in his assisted living apartment. He showed me the items of the most importance to him. The framed picture of his Temple Israel Tribute for the many, many passionate years that he read Torah, showed us the way to mitzvot and lived a Jewish life. Included in his prized possessions were his tefillin and weathered prayer book.

By User:Black Stripe, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31995292We all have models set before us of Yiddishkeit of people who taught us how to be good Jews. ʻEikev is the quintessential love song of a leader, Moses knowing that he would not make it to the promised land but forever until his last breath loving God and Torah. The Israelites were new people with a slave mentality and needed a tremendous amount of help and guidance in knowing HaShem’s ways.

In our adult lifetimes, I am sure that each of us, even if we were not raised with all our mitzvot to follow, we had strong Jewish models of the direction to follow. We had guidance on how to keep what we find sacred to God and ourselves. And that my friends is the meaning of Congregation Sof Ma’arav. For we have faced many challenges in the last 18 months to keep Shabbat, to keep reading Torah, to honor our tradition and to do good under the eyes of HaShem. Our initial struggles with Zoom and not seeing each other in person were overcome for the love of this community. In the last 2 months when we went to a hybrid and in person service we took every possible care to follow the commandment of making Shabbat a holy experience for those faraway and also those of us here in this room today. Many hours, many ideas, thoughts, passion and feelings went into all these preparations.

Yet our rewards were great, we celebrated Shabbat with an incredible almost surprising amount of joy, whether we were just on Zoom or in a combined Zoom in person service. We never, ever will take for granted the ability to come together in a physical space and take out a Torah to read from the bimah.  We have clung to the commandments in the best of possible ways. So I ask you, would Moshe Rebeinu, the greatest of our leaders, would Moshe be proud of us?

In ʻEikev and the book of Devarim, Moshe takes the creation story of a people and explains it to us in simple language. If you look at the reading for ʻEikev in the Torah, it is basic, simple, complete, like an arrow, his words come directly to our hearts. Other parashot in the Torah have new words, hidden values, and we search out the meanings. Not so for ʻEikev, as Moshe uses simple understandable repetitive words to recount the story of the birth of the Israelites into a strong people of faith. As HaShem created and gave birth to the world, so too does Moshe continue this creation story. He was born and designated to create the nation of Israel.

Our tradition teaches us to look back and to look forward almost simultaneously. Our own Biblical Hebrew language is who we are. For what other language other than Hebrew, in the very structure of their verbs of action “asa,” to do, to make, can flip back and forth between past and future within each action. We at Sof Ma’arav look back to keep and find joy in our beautiful community. The word for they kept is “shamru”  they guarded Sof in the past. V’shamru they will guard Sof into the future. The “vav” consecutive links our Biblical past into our future days.

Moshe taught us HaShem’s words that man cannot live by bread alone. With food and being satiated, you go from one meal to the next. Trying to fill up on that enjoyment of the moment. When in reality, with community, mitzvot and love of Torah you are “full up” all the time and especially when celebrating Shabbat together.

God warns us to never become complacent through Moshe’s words. When we prosper and are living a “good life” then we need to remember how we were created and why. To live a full life, a good life on earth reflected in heaven is to do “asa” mitzvot and never forget that we are humans, sometimes a little higher than animals. Our wants, needs and desires must be directed like an arrow toward heaven at all times.

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