Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah

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“Can you believe it’s already August? Summer’s almost over.” It is a common refrain at this time of year. Perhaps we all begin to feel a bit anxious as summer wanes, but in the Jewish world, there is a reason for our anxiety: Soon the Days of Awe will be upon us, and we wonder if we will be ready. The rabbis who chose the weekly Haftarah readings were keenly aware of the season, the Torah theme of the week, and the psyche of those who would be listening to the scripture lesson in the synagogue. For this season, they chose seven messages of “nechemta,” comfort, partly to help us move out of the mode of mourning that pervades the Tisha B’av observance we have just completed. But, I believe they were also trying to help us cope with the coming of the season of repentance. Texts of comfort from the prophet Isaiah are shared each week, beginning with this week’s Shabbat Nachamu, Shabbat of Comfort, echoing the beginning words of the Haftarah: “Nachamu, nachamu, ami,” Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people.” (Isaiah 40:1)

At the beginning of Torah portion Masey (Num. 33: 2ff), the second half of this week’s double portion, Matot-Masey, Moses reviews all of the stages of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to this point, the end of the Book of Numbers, which is, in essence, the end of the wilderness journey as well.  The next book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, is a series of speeches, retelling what happened before.  A midrash explains Moses’ review through a parable of a king who takes his son to a distant land for a cure, and on the return journey points out to him all of the places they passed before and what they experienced there.  So, it is with God and the people of Israel.  Out of compassion and love for the people, God points out all of the stages, the highs and lows, that made this moment possible. (Hertz Chumash, p. 714)  

In this week’s parasha, Moses speaks to God about succession plans for leadership of the Israelite community.  Moses knows that he will not go into Israel, and now Aaron and Miriam are both dead.  Moses urges God:  “Let Adonai…appoint someone over the community…who shall take them out and bring them in, so that Adonai’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.” (Num. 27:17) One might read into these lines Moses’ disappointment that he does not get to see his mission through to the end.  He begs God not to keep the next leader from fulfilling his mission. The truth, however, is that few of us get the privilege of seeing all of our dreams and goals accomplished.  We have to accept some degree of “unfinished business” no matter how long we strive toward our goals or how many years we live.  But we should not mistake an incomplete mission for failure.   Instead, the quality of the journey and the good that we did along the way should be our focus.

October FOOD OF THE MONTH: Peanut Butter and Jelly 

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