In this week’s portion, we get into the legal details of Deuteronomy. The portion begins, “Look, I place before you today a blessing and a curse,” the blessing for obeying the laws and the curse for not obeying. In the Hebrew, the word “Look” is singular, but the rest of the verse is plural. Each, individual and community, must choose. They have free will to choose rightly or wrongly. The laws are intended to facilitate their choosing correctly, but it’s still their choice. Of special importance in this regard are the commands to rid the land of possibly tempting idolatrous influences and to beware of false prophets, even if those false prophets are family.
Here too, are laws of Kashrut, concerning animal-based foods that are fit (“kosher”) to eat. They’ve been eating meat but only from the sacrifices. Once they’re settled in Canaan, they’ll be able to eat meat more generally, though with restrictions. Only specific classes of animals and fish are clean. A list of unclean birds by name follows, and clean ones are those not on that list. [Why are some clean and some unclean, and what does that mean? I just got back from vacation, so I refer you to Purity and Danger by Mary T. Douglas. ] Blood is forbidden, which influences how animals are slaughtered and “koshered,” to maximize removal of blood. And here is the verse about not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk that is the basis of all the laws about separating milk and meat products (no cheeseburgers).
The Israelites are told once more (see also Leviticus 25:1-7) the laws of the sabbatical year and remission of debts. Hebrew slaves are freed in the seventh year of service with a nice severance package; a slave who wants to stay has ear nailed to the door (presumably the nail is then taken out).
The portion ends with the most familiar section, familiar since it’s also read on some holidays, concerning how to celebrate the harvest festivals: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Unlike the parallel holiday instructions in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28, here the focus is less on sacrificial details and more on the reasons for celebrating. Actually, we’ll be reading some of Numbers 28 this Shabbat, 28:9-15 (sacrifices, what else?), from a second scroll because it will also be Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the month of Elul.
This week, the haftarah would normally be the third Haftarah of Consolation, Isaiah 54:11-55:5. However, as I noted just above, it’s Rosh Chodesh Elul this weekend, 30 Av on Shabbat, 1 Elul the following day. Of the various customs for not slighting the beginning of the introspective month of Elul and yet including all 7 H of C’s, my congregation will read the Rosh Chodesh haftarah, Isaiah 66:1-24, for Re’eh. Then, in two weeks, we’ll read H of C #5, Isaiah 54:1-10 and then H of C #3, which starts with the very next verse, Isaiah 54:11. See how nicely it all works out? We will have read H of C’s 1, 2, 4, 5, 3, 6, 7, but the order doesn’t matter since we’ll get all seven in.
(sent out a few years ago, but still cute)
The Sunday school teacher was explaining the story of Elijah the Prophet and the false prophets of Baal to her class. She explained how Elijah built the altar, put wood upon it, cut the steer in pieces and laid it upon the altar. And then Elijah commanded the people of God to fill four barrels of water and pour it over the altar. He had them do this four times. “Now, said the teacher, “can anyone in the class tell me why the Lord would have Elijah pour water over the steer on the altar?”
A little girl raised her hand with great enthusiasm and said “To make the gravy!”
Shopping for a Husband
(I wouldn’t choose one this way, but it does remind me of some women – and men. Our anniversary is 1 Elul, BTW. Happy 39 years, honey!)
A store that sells husbands has just opened where a woman may go to choose a husband from among many men. The store is composed of 6 floors, and the men increase in positive attributes as the shopper ascends the flights.
There is, however, a catch. As you open the door to any floor you may choose a man from that floor, but if you go up a floor, you cannot go back down except to exit the building.
So a woman goes to the shopping center to find a husband.
On the first floor the sign on the door reads:
Floor 1 – These men have jobs.
The woman reads the sign and says to herself, “Well, that’s better than my last boyfriend, but I wonder what’s further up?” So up she goes.
The second floor sign reads:
Floor 2 – These men have jobs and love kids.
The woman remarks to herself, “That’s great, but I wonder what’s further up?” And up she goes again.
The third floor sign reads:
Floor 3 – These men have jobs, love kids and are extremely good looking.
“Hmmm, better” she says. “But I wonder what’s upstairs?”
The fourth floor sign reads:
Floor 4 – These men have jobs, love kids, are extremely good looking and help with the housework.
“Wow!” exclaims the woman, “very tempting. BUT, there must be more further up!” And again she heads up another flight.
The fifth floor sign reads:
Floor 5 – These men have jobs, love kids, are extremely good looking, help with the housework and have a strong romantic streak.
“Oh, mercy me! But just think… what must be awaiting me further on?” So up to the sixth floor she goes.
The sixth floor sign reads:
Floor 6 – You are visitor 6,875,953,012 to this floor. There are no men on this floor. This floor exists solely as proof that (some! IGP) women are impossible to please.
From Midrash, Genesis Rabbah 26
Rabban Gamaliel married off his daughter. She said to him, “Father, bless me.” He said, “May you never come back here.” She gave birth to a son. She said to him, “Father, bless me.” He said, “May ‘Oy vey!’ never cease from your mouth.” She said to him, “Father, two happy occasions have come to me and you have cursed me [on both]!” He said to her, “Both are blessings. Since you have peace in your house, you won’t return here. And since your son will survive [infancy], ‘Oy vey!’ will never cease from your mouth. ‘Oy vey that my son didn’t eat!’ ‘Oy vey that he didn’t drink!’ ‘Oy vey that he didn’t go to shul!’”
Quotes about Free Will
Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will. Jawaharlal Nehru
There’s too much tendency to attribute to God the evils that man does of his own free will. Agatha Christie
Ontologically, chocolate raises profoundly disturbing questions: Does not chocolate offer natural revelation of the goodness of the Creator just as chilies disclose a divine sense of humor? Is the human born with an innate longing for chocolate? Does the notion of chocolate preclude the concept of free will? David Augsburger
I am a hidden meaning made to defy
The grasp of words, and walk away
With free will and destiny.
As living, revolutionary clay. Muhammad Iqbal