Thought Of The Week: 6 August 2015

Written by Writings & Sermons by others — 6 August 2015

This past Shabbat we read some of the most crucial words in the Torah: “Hear, O Israel! Adonai is our God, Adonai is one.” While this text is considered to be the watchword of our faith, we all know that the Shema doesn’t end there.  The parsha continues by telling us exactly how we are to honour the oneness of God – by taking the commandments to heart, teaching them to our children, and remembering them in all of our daily activities.  We are to bind them upon our hands and place them between our eyes.  We are to remember them as we lie down, as we rise up, and throughout our day.

This coming Shabbat, we will read the following text:

‘Therefore, impress these My words upon your very heart: bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, and teach them to your children – reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up, and inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates – to the end that you and your children may endure in the land that the eternal swore to your fathers to assign to them, as long as there is a heaven over the earth.’

If you think that these words sound familiar, you are right.  Two weeks in a row we read almost identical text, and yet we are told that there are no superfluous duplications in the Torah.  What this tells us is that there is something important here to which we are supposed to be paying attention.  The emphasis seems to be on the physical – the places on our bodies where we are supposed to hold the mitzvot, as well as during which physical activities we are supposed to be particularly aware of them.  I believe that the lesson in this is that it’s not enough that we learn the commandments and teach them to our children, but we must embody them.  Mitzvot aren’t just concepts for us to know and discuss, but they are actions and behaviours that we have to do.

It is no mistake that this portion occurs as we reach the end of the month of Av.  Next Shabbat we will usher in the month of Elul, and with it the reflective period of time that leads up to the High Holy Days.  Our Torah portion is reminding us that as we start to take account of our souls in preparation for the New Year, we have to consider our thoughts, our words, and our actions.    The commandments are not just notions for us to understand, but they are a part of our bodies, and a part of our everyday lives.  Our Torah is reminding us that the commandments, which help to shape our morals and values, aren’t any good if they’re just words – we have to do them,  live them, and be them. This is the lesson that we teach to our children; that Judaism is about action, about living the ethics of our Torah.  As we head into the holiest time of the year, let’s all take the opportunity to consider how we can embody our sacred texts and ensure that we not only think and speak with integrity, but embody our values when we lie down, when we rise up, and when we stay at home and when we are away.