Monday, September 24, 2007


These Ark Doors grace the sanctuary at Temple Chai in Phoenix, Arizona. They were created by Jessica Adams of Living Design Studios. At first glance, the panels appear abstract, but upon closer examination many symbols of great import can be seen.

This Shabbat, the final torah portion of the year will be read. In brief Moses in his final appeal to the Hebrews, encourages us to embrace the commandments and to not be overwhelmed by their multitude and the work which is required by them. Moses and G'd recognize that it is likely that individuals will engage in sinful behavior, but eventually they will return to G'd and Torah. I love the idea that Moses fosters the idea that the mitzvot are within our grasp and to choose the Torah is to choose life itself!

All-Inclusive Covenant

By David Nelson of CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

In the beginning of Parashat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9 - 30:20), Moses prepares the Israelites to enter the covenant with God. He declares that the whole community--elders, women, children, strangers--will be part of the covenant, "from your woodchoppers to your water-drawers".

This is a typical biblical phrase. "From x to y," where x and y represent opposite extremes of a continuum, means "including everyone." Thus "from young to old" or "from the greatest to the smallest" mean "including everyone." Our problem is that woodchoppers and water-drawers are not opposite extremes. Both are menial laborers and neither was highly esteemed. What does the phrase mean?

Perhaps these jobs are meant symbolically rather than literally. Let's free associate. Woodchoppers are literally "choppers of your trees." The image of trees has echoes of the Tree of Life, the Torah. To "chop" such a Tree is to question, or reject Jewish tradition. On the other hand, the image of "water-drawers" is reminiscent of the verse "u-sh'avtem mayim b'sasson...," the promise of Isaiah (12:3), "You shall draw water joyfully from salvation's wells." The image is of one who drinks deeply from the wellsprings of Torah.

Understood this way, Moses is declaring the covenant to be inclusive of all, the pious and the rebellious, the faithful and the confused. The text warns us never to be so complacent about our commitment or devotion, or so sure of our faith, that we see the covenant of Israel as closed to those who are not convinced of its value or sure of its feasibility. Rather we must learn from the later verses of the parashah and approach such Jews with the assurance that the Torah, in its broadest sense, “. . . is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart" (Deuteronomy 30:14).

No comments: