I am either young enough to remember, or my English teachers made such an impression on me that I recall with some clarity, how to craft a persuasive paper. Paragraph one begins with a hook to engage the reader, followed by stating your argument, and closing with an overview of your points. The proceeding paragraphs then lay out your argumentative points, which are supported by two to three sub-points. The concluding paragraph recaps your argument and implores the reader to side with you. I liken the structure of the Torah to the persuasive papers I once wrote, especially the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy, which we begin reading this week, starts with a recap of the Israelites journey out of Egypt and wanderings through the desert.
This week’s parsha, Devarim, begins with a series of speeches by Moses to the Israelites. He recounts the journey from Sinai and all that had happened to the Israelites prior to this generation, which is about to cross into the promised land. There is a strong emphasis put on mistakes made throughout the journey. Each time there was an opportunity to “move forward” the people botched it by not listening to God. Torah commentator Shawn Landres notes that the well-known cliché “Those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat” wasn’t yet a cliché. Moses gives the children of Israel ownership over their own history by reminding them that history by itself is not what makes them special. The Torah itself makes them special. And history is not something that happens to us. History is what we do with what happens to us. Landres goes on further to say that the Torah tells us that God will keep God’s promises but the long circuitous journey to the promised land reminds the Israelites that the history of their arrival has yet to be written. They have been called to the journey. How they get there is up to them.
I typically shy away from sharing what can be perceived as political viewpoints with our congregation. We are all welcome to have our own leanings on whichever topic is the “hot button” of the day. But I cannot sit idly by as we continue to hear about senseless shootings that take the lives of innocent people. We need to take a stand! I urge you to contact your elected officials to let them know how important it is to pass common-sense legislation that can help curb the epidemic of gun violence. Our temple Gun Safety Platform states, “the basic ideas of the Jewish tradition require all communities and societies to protect the welfare of their members and citizens and to develop the conditions necessary for the maintenance of safety and health. When the rabbis in the Talmud come across a case in society that is not specifically covered by a mitzvah in Torah, but nevertheless has to be addressed, they base their rulings on a simple verse in the Torah: “‘And you shall do that which is Yasher and Tov – righteous and good’ (Deuteronomy 6:18). So shall we.” Yes, so shall we do what is righteous and good. Not only to bring forth reform but also healing. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is demanding Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell save lives by calling an extraordinary session of the US Senate to vote on the Background Check Expansion Act. Act Now to Save Lives. Then join Rabbi Cohen, me, and members of our community this Friday evening as we come together during these trying times.