It’s August. For me, this year, that means TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars,” with each day in August devoted to a single actor (today, Lon Chaney); going away on vacation; reviewing elementary Attic Greek and starting on Mendelsohn’s Elijah in preparation for my fall activities; and a major wedding anniversary.
It also means we are getting close to the end of the year by the Hebrew calendar. Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) is over and Tu B’Av (15th of Av), a recently revived minor holiday also known as Chag HaAhava, festival of love (http://www.morim-madrichim.org/en/Event/1764/p0/tu-bav?firstreq=1 ), is in a few days (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/tubav.html). After Av comes Elul, the last month of the year.
And, since this is about the weekly Torah portion, it also means we’re in Deuteronomy, and Moses is trying to teach the Children of Israel, the generation of the desert, about their history and its miraculous nature: “(H)as anything as grand as this ever happened, or has its like ever been known? Has any people heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have, and survived? Or has any god ventured to go and take for himself one nation from the midst of another.” (4:32-34) They can have a great future in the Promised Land, if they obey the laws they have been given. Moses himself is an object lesson, having been denied entrance into the Land because he disobeyed. If they follow the laws, good things should follow as a natural consequence. The keystone of their laws is the Ten Commandments. Moses teaches them here (5:6-18), but they differ slightly from the ones in Exodus 20. According to the Maharal of Prague, Moses is presenting the Commandments in a way the people could better absorb. When we refer to “the Ten Commandments,” it’s the set in Exodus.
But it’s not just a matter of carrots and sticks. They should obey not simply out of fear, but also, even primarily, out of love. This portion includes the first paragraph of the Shema (6:4-9), probably the most well-known part of our liturgy. It’s not a prayer, but a command to “Listen! Pay attention!” (6:4) to the idea of the oneness of the Lord, followed immediately by a command to love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, and might. In the JTS translation of this portion, the word “love” appears four times, “heart” three times, and “soul” twice. “Biblical scholars would typically translate ‘heart’ here as the seat of the intellect and wisdom (the intestines are the seat of the emotions) and ‘soul’ as the physical being, or breath. ‘Love’ is action, not an emotion (Thanks, Stanley). It means fidelity, loyalty, faithful obedience. “For Maimonides, this love arises from intellectual conviction, but one’s soul is “ever enraptured by it” (N. Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, pp. 66-67). Thus, the Israelites are being commanded to approach their God with both rationality and passion.
This Sabbath is called Shabbat Nachamu (“comfort,” plural imperative) after the first word in the haftarah, Isaiah 40:1-26, in which the prophets are being told to comfort the people. [BONUS QUESTION: Which 7 verses in this haftarah occur in Handel’s Messiah?]. It’s the first of the seven Haftarot of Consolation following Tisha B’Av.
“We search for comfort in many ways – food to satisfy and evoke memories of happier times, drugs and alcohol to numb pain, stuffed animals to cuddle. A baby learns to comfort itself by sucking a thumb or pacifier (though my kids were never really into that). But the most efficacious comfort involves a sympathetic response from a real being – a real or virtual hug, another’s warm words, the snuggling of a pet or a child: “The baby slept, wrapped in a great fold of the cloak. Feeling this little life, so unconscious and untroubled, snuggling into the hollow of her breast, Marie gradually regained her calm.” (The Royal Succession, Maurice Druon, 1958, p. 159).” (2015)
And after seven weeks of Haftarot of Consolation, it will be time for Rosh Hashanah, a brand-new year.
Love, as perceived by some children 4 to 8 years-of-age (selections)
- Tommy – age 6: “Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.”
- Clare – age 6: “My mummy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.”
- Elaine-age 5: “Love is when Mummy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.”
- Mary Ann – age 4: “‘Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.”
- Lauren – age 4: “‘I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.”
- Karen age 7: “When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.”
- Jessica – age 8: “‘You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”
- And the final one — Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old child whose next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”
One of the highlights of the freshman biology class at New Mexico Highlands University was the monthly feeding of a caged rattlesnake kept in the laboratory. One time, the entire class gathered around the cage and, in complete silence, watched as the feeding took place.
“I’m jealous of the snake,” the instructor said. “I never get the class’s undivided attention like this.”
A student answered matter-of-factly, “You would if you could swallow a mouse.”
Hannah was spending the night with her grandparents. At bath time Hannah asked her grandmother if they were going to church the next morning. When Grandma said yes, Hannah turned up her nose and said, “I don’t like Sunday school.”
“But Hannah,” Grandma replied, “we should learn all we can about God.”
“I learned all about that when we lived in Illinois.”
“Well, I’ve been going to church all my life and I haven’t learned everything about God,” Grandma said.
“Maybe you weren’t paying attention.”
The Math Class
The math teacher saw that little Johnny wasn’t paying attention in class. She called on him and said, ‘Johnny! What are 2 and 4 and 28 and 44?
Little Johnny quickly replied, ‘NBC, FOX, ESPN and the Cartoon Network!’
Tom had won a toy at a raffle. He called his 5 kids together to ask
which one should have the present.
“Who is the most obedient?” he asked.
The children all stared back at him in silence.
Then he asked, “Who never talks back to mother?”
Again the kids appeared to be mystified by the question.
Then Tom asked, “Who does everything she says?”
With that question, the kids were finally able to come to a conclusion. The five small voices answered in unison, “Okay, dad, you get the toy.”
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS ON IPAD
Quotes on Comfort
There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort. Jane Austen
Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. John F. Kennedy
Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always. Hippocrates
Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what preserve the heart and secure comfort. Humphry Davy