21 Elul 5782

To listen to the message: https://youtu.be/u0boGq7hy8Q

Preparing for a life together forever ….

I remember when I was single, there was no school that could prepare us to live a married life. The marriage that Evelyn, my wife, and I have built together has been the result of trial and error, success, and failure, not the typical fairy tale that we watch in movies; we had to learn to communicate and are continuing to learn even after 19 years of marriage.

For a marriage to endure, there must be clear two-way communication, in both directions; rules must be established on what is allowed, on how to act and behave, and we must be clear with other in order to have a transparent relationship. To love another person, it is necessary to deal first with ourselves, because if I don’t love or can’t even stand myself, how can I open my heart to receive another person into my life?

As I stood back to see this parashah from a distance as our RANEBI taught us about many topics, I noticed, that during this month of Elul, prior to Yom Teruah (or Rosh Hashanah) and Shemini Atzeret or the added day Simchat Torah, it is similar to a man who wants to build a “new home” for his bride to dwell with him. 

Our portion says at the beginning of Devarim 26: 

“Vehayah ki-tavo el-ha’aretz asher Adonai Eloheicha noten lecha nachalah virishtah veyashavta bah”…. 

“וְהָיָה כִּי-תָבוֹא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה וִירִשְׁתָּהּ וְיָשַׁבְתָּ בָּהּ.”

“When you have entered the land that the LORD, your God, is giving you as an inheritance and you have taken possession of it and are dwelling in it”… 

When I read these words, the image came to me that our Bore Olam was making a promise, like a boyfriend makes to his girlfriend (who represents Israel), to give her a place to live (Eretz Israel); to have a relationship, but a relationship that shines, that brings light. How much can we learn from the relationship that God wants with his People for us to apply to our homes today! Let’s look at this portion:  

First, a relationship must be based on gratitude. In Devarim 26: 3 we read: “Today I declare to the LORD your God, (and express my gratitude to him) because I have entered the land that the LORD swore to our fathers that He would give to us.” If we take everything for granted in a relationship, whatever it is, because we think we deserve it, or if we show indifference, it won’t last long. Psalm 50:23 says, “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me; to him who follows My way, I will show the salvation of God.” Tehillim 107:1 says, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; his lovingkindness endures forever.” Let us give thanks for the good, and for the apparent bad. I heard a shiur, a  Talmudic study, this week where Rabbi Isaac Luria said that blessings are when the Eternal clearly manifests Himself by day, and curses are when He, blessed be He, hides His face from us; it is the concealment of a blessing. So even what is apparently bad for us, is also good. In our home, we currently have the inflow of water to our house blocked, and I cannot repair it because of the laws that prohibit me from doing so. I have been waiting 23 days for the water service company to come and repair it, incredible! But in this apparent bad situation, I have seen the hand of the Eternal because there has been no lack of water for us to drink, to bathe, cook, wash dishes and our clothes! I have come to realize the blessing of having a family who have the aptitude of supplying water close by to our home.

Second, we must remember our past to see how, by God’s mercy, we are where we are today. This allows us to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground, away from our pride and having “fantasies” about who we are, since we are what we are due to the favor of the Eternal. This parashah has us remember out loud that an Aramean wanted to make our father perish, reminding us of our time in Egypt and how God heard our voice, and saw our affliction, our fatigue, and oppression, and how He took us out and brought us to His chosen land, for us (26:6-8). In this case, remembering is positive, because it allows us to reach the conclusion, as Rav Shaul said: “I am what I am, by the grace of the Eternal.”

In our congregation I have been surprised by so many fascinating stories, of how some come from dysfunctional homes, others from shallow beliefs (nonsense), others from depression, others come from distant lands and have come to prosper thanks to the Eternal, etc. and by listening to everyone, truly everyone is in their current position, thanks only to Him, thanks to His kindness, thanks to His favor. It is very nice to read: “the land that the Eternal chose for you (26:9)” and continuing in the relationship of the couple who are about to get married, will a boyfriend not look for the best for his girlfriend? something she likes? a place where she will be safe? Our Creator does the same for us. 

Third, love is not selfish, it gives, it returns, not for barter, but for love. In this sense, He is speaking to us about the tithe, about returning from what God has already given to us. It is the same in our homes; gratitude must be made concrete by our actions. Saying I love you, but I don’t speak, I don’t clean the floor, I don’t wash dishes, I don’t take out garbage, I don’t keep order, I don’t take care of the others… is that love? Today many marriages have been dissolved because they were utilitarian, to satisfy an unhealthy need for affection; they did not survive because selfishness blinds people, who began to see the shortcomings of the other, rather than their potential and what they could give to the other. In this portion, we give, but the Eternal also gives to us. That’s what makes it a relationship. He honors us before other peoples as Devarim 26:18-19 tells us: “and the LORD has solemnly promised you today that you will be his chosen people, as he had promised”. V’Adonai he’emircha hayom liheyot lo le’am segulah ka’asher diber-lach….” וַיהוָה הֶאֱמִירְךָ הַיּוֹם, לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְעַם סְגֻלָּה, כַּאֲשֶׁר, דִּבֶּר-לָךְ  “He will raise you up above every other nation in praise, fame, and honor. You will be a holy people to the LORD your God, as He has promised.” Isn’t that enough for us to give thanks to God? We are chosen by the Eternal!

Fourth, a relationship needs commitment from both parties. We read in Devarim 27:1, “Keep all the commandments that I command you today“, the commitment is manifested by making all these words of the Torah their own, (mitzvot, chukkim, mishpatim i.e., the Ten Commandments), for this reason Devarim 27:2-3 tells us that we must “erect stones engraved with them for you, write them for you”.

Fifth, a relationship needs to rejoice together. Can you be with a person who is like a zombie, expressionless?  When was the last time you laughed with someone? Devarim 27:7 commands us to “offer peace offerings and eat there and rejoice before the LORD your God”. 

Sixth, a relationship needs clear guidelines and knowing the consequences of disobeying these rules, which we read from Chapters 27:11 to 28:69, in the so-called tochecha, curses or warnings. What caught my attention was that among the blessings was Shimon, to whom his father said: “cursed be your anger” (from Gen. 49:7); we see the love of God here, allowing him to make a Tikkun (restoration) expressing blessings. In some synagogues, they read these curses in a low voice, however, I loved something I heard from Rabbi Abraham Ashkenazi saying: “Say them out loud, because by hearing them, you will not practice them, and they will become a blessing”.

Seventh, in a stable relationship you need intimacy, you need to enter the other’s heart. Our portion closes by saying that after 40 years in the desert, Israel had a problem; in Devarim 29:3 it says: “but until now the LORD has not yet given you a heart that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear.” My wife doesn’t need to tell me out loud to know that I’ve “screwed up” on something, I just need to look into her eyes to know if I did something wrong.  An understanding heart knows intentions of the other person. For example, I don’t need to be a psychology graduate to know that when she tells me: “I don’t feel like cooking tonight” it means, “I want to go out with you and talk”, and to understand her different tones of voice to know that something is wrong or right.

How is our relationship with God? I never cease to be amazed as our haftarah portion in Isaiah invites us to be different. Isaiah 60:1 says, “Arise and shine forth, for your light has come and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” A relationship requires work, it needs to mature, it needs to build memories, even those that are painful, to get close to one another, to experience joy, to laugh, it needs action. Let’s arise, as Isaiah invites us, because our Light, our Bridegroom, our GOD, has arrived! Are you ready to live a life together with our Creator?

Shabbat Shalom

Mauricio Quintero