This week: a little holiday about love, the 10 Commandments redux, the Shema (pay attention!), and comfort.
Tu B’Av (the 15th of Av, this year August 15-16) is a minor holiday that dates at least from Second Temple period (516 BCE to 70 CE). It was a day of matchmaking, a love festival for romantic couples. Unmarried girls would wear borrowed white dresses and dance in the fields outside the walls of Jerusalem under the full moon, while young men followed them, hoping to find a bride. Tu B’Av has been reborn in recent years, especially in Israel, accompanied by singing and dancing festivals.
On to the Torah portion:
Deuteronomy is a lesson/sales pitch/pep talk by Moses, as he tries to convince the new generation of Israelites why they should be mindful of their past and obey the Law. He points to his own fate as an object lesson (twice); he can’t pass over the Jordan with them because he disobeyed. He also points out how amazing their story has been so far. “(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) In Chapter 5, he “re-gives” them the Ten Commandments, the keystone of the Law. The text is a little different from the set in Exodus 20, probably to make them more absorbable by the current generation, according to the Maharal of Prague. Moses emphasizes that, if they obey the Lord’s laws, things will go well; and if they don’t, they will be severely punished. Abravanel suggests thinking of this obedience as preventive medicine; if you do (or don’t do) thus-and-so, health (or sickness) will follow as a natural consequence.
That brings us to probably the most famous part of our liturgy, the first paragraph of the Shema (6:4-9). It’s not actually a prayer. The first word, “Shema,” is a command: Hear! Listen up! Pay attention! Then there’s a statement (with ambiguous translation) on the Oneness of the Lord. How the Israelites are to thrive is not simply a matter of carrots and sticks. That would work for automatons. But the Israelites are to have a covenantal relationship with the Lord, and that brings in another factor: love. 6:5 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” [As I’ve noted before, in the Bible, ‘love’ is an action, not an emotion; it means fidelity, loyalty, and faithful obedience. The ‘heart’ is the seat of the intellect and s the ‘intestines’ are the seat of the emotions.] Further, the Israelites are commanded to teach these words to their children, meditate on them day and night, and use mezuzot and tefillin as personal reminders. We’ll see the concepts of study and love recur through Deuteronomy.
This Sabbath, the first one after Tisha B’Av, is called Shabbat Nachamu (Comfort) after the first word of the special haftarah, Isaiah 40:1-26, in which the prophets are told to comfort the people. (Verses 40: 1-4, 5, 9, and 11 appear in Handel’s Messiah, by the way.) It’s the first of 7 Haftarot of Consolation, versus 3 Haftarot of Rebuke. It takes a lot longer to be comforted than to be scolded. Since I expect we’ll continue to need comfort for a while during this time of mishegas, I will explore comfort here over the next several weeks. After that comes Rosh Hashanah.
Ten Commandment Jokes
Said Moses after smashing the Ten Commandments:
“It’s okay, I have a backup in the cloud.”
Moses opens his tablet.
The notification says, “You have 10 unread commandments’.
Moses was sent by the Israelites…
to the top of Mount Sinai to negotiate with God over the commandments. After a month of intense discussion, an exhausted Moses came down with a list of 200 commandments.
The Israelites, however, weren’t happy with this, and sent him back up to negotiate a better deal. A week later, a washed-out Moses returned from his mission.
“I’ve got some good news and some bad news,” Moses told the Israelites.
“The good news is that I’ve gotten the list down to ten.
The bad news is that adultery is still on there.”
There has been some controversy regarding priests delivering sermons using an iPad instead of the traditional bible.
I think it’s perfectly fine. After all, Moses delivered the ten commandments using two tablets.
What’s the best way for a tailor to get someone’s attention?
My wife said I don’t pay enough attention to her.
At least, I think that’s what she said.
Screenwriters are very attention seeking.
After all, they cause a lot of scenes.
This morning on the way to work, I wasn’t really paying attention and I drove into the back of a car at some traffic lights.
The driver got out and it turned out he was a dwarf.
He said, “I’m not happy.”
I said, “Well, which one are you then?”
Kids’ Ideas About Love
Kids, aged 5 to 10, were asked questions about what they thought of love and marriage. Here’s what they said. (selections)
Love and Marriage:
“If falling in love is anything like learning how to spell, I don’t want to do it. It takes too long.” — Glenn, age 7
“On the first date, they just tell each other lies, and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.” — Mike, 10
“Most men are brainless, so you might have to try more than once to find a live one.” — Angie, age 10
“Love will find you, even if you are trying to hide from it. I been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me.” — Dave, age 8
“You learn [how to kiss] right on the spot when the gooshy feelings get the best of you.” — Doug, age 7
“It’s never okay to kiss a boy. They always slobber all over you. That’s why I stopped doing it.” — Tammy, age 10
“I know one reason kissing was created. It makes you feel warm all over, and they didn’t always have electric heat or fireplaces or even stoves in their houses.” — Gina, age 8
Good Advice About Love:
“Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough.” — Lynnette, age 8
“Don’t forget your wife’s name. That will mess up the love.” — Erin, age 8
“Don’t say you love somebody and then change your mind. Love isn’t like picking what movie you want to watch.” — Natalie, age 9
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”
Quotes about Comforting
In some ways, climbing in the clouds is comforting. You can no longer see how high off the ground you are. Tommy Caldwell
Baking cookies is comforting, and cookies are the sweetest little bit of comfort food. They are very bite-sized and personal. Sandra Lee
Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life and repeat to yourself, the most comforting words of all; this, too, shall pass. Ann Landers
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. Viktor E. Frankl
There is something comforting about going into a practice room, putting your sheet music on a stand and playing Bach over and over again. Andrew Bird
Fragrance is a bit of a selfish gift because it’s comforting when you’re near someone and you recognize their smell. Blake Lively