Beloved Friends, 

Our two-year-old lab, Tali, continues to be a source of joy, comfort, and mystery. These last few months Cathy and I have been puzzled and genuinely concerned that Tali has become very reactive to other dogs. We are struggling to understand where this is coming from and what her behavior is communicating. Is she saying, “Get away from me, dog, you are in my space.” Or is it more along the lines of, “You scare me, dog, so I am going to try to scare you away with some first response growling and snapping.” 

Tali remains the sweetest dog to people of any age, size, race, color, or creed. It is dogs that bring forward the reactive communication and the struggle to be heard and understood are things with our teacher Moses was very well attuned to ever since he first heard God’s voice at the burning bush. 

When God tells Moses to speak to the Pharaoh Moses demurs saying that he is “heavy of tongue.” Moses does not think he can speak in a way that people will be able to understand. Perhaps he has a physical speech impediment and/or he has a fear of public speaking. Whatever was true then – the book of Exodus no longer holds by the beginning of this weekly Torah portion, Devarim, the first portion of the book of Deuteronomy. 

At this point, Moses now explains carefully and clearly the whole of Torah. (Deuteronomy 1:5) “Moses באר, clarified and explained this Torah.” The Hebrew word באר (bei-air) caught the attention of our sages of blessed memory. How is it that Moses is suddenly a person of words who can speak at great length? While they do not explicitly account for this newfound ability, they double down on Moses’ skill stating that the use of the word bei-air indicates that Moses spoke fluently the 70 languages of his time and bei-air the words of Torah in all 70 of these languages. Moses became, if you will, a hyper-polyglot. 

Through his years of leadership, Moses overcame his own fear of any physical impediment to become Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our teacher who could reach each and every Israelite and non-Israelite journeying to the Promised Land in their own language. I have to believe that what Moses was able to achieve was not just done linguistically. Moses figured out that each person hears, learns, understands, and responds differently. And Moses took note of the fact that he could employ many different means to place Torah into the hearts of the people. 

On Wednesday, July 6th I participated in the Vigil held at Makom Solel Lakeside. I did not know what to expect. The words, the music, and the people assembled communicated grief, anger, sadness, strength, support, and love in many different ways. The most moving and evocative moment for me was when the Reverend Jesse Jackson got up to speak. His presence was not announced in advance. You may know that Reverend Jackson has Parkinson’s Disease, and it has affected his ability to walk and to speak. Reverend Jackson is known for many things especially his ability to deliver powerful sermons that moved people to action. 

Now Reverend Jackson needed to rely on other ways of communicating. In a whisper barely audible he began, “Parkinson’s has weakened my voice, but my mind is strong.” Just his presence, the fact that he could with the help of companions stand up from his wheelchair and address the hundreds of people so deeply wounded by the mass shooting on July 4th spoke more profoundly to each of us than any words we could hear. His commitment to service and the heroic effort he exerted to be present communicated to all a sense of hope. 

On this Shabbat let us speak and let us listen with all our senses as we journey together to the Promised Land, a land that we can create here and now. A land of promise without fear, without gun violence, without diversion. A land of hope and blessing, love and friendship fulfilling the most beautiful vision of our prophets. 

Shabbat Shalom,