Monday, August 15, 2011

Finding Your Voice

Parshat Ekev
Dvarim 7:12 – 11:25
Av 5771 / August 19 – 20, 2011

Finding Your Voice
Introduction by Zvi, Guest writer is Rabbi Ronnie Cahana of Montreal

This week I want to share a unique Dvar Torah written by a Rabbi who recently suffered from a stroke. Rabbi Ronnie Cahana lives in Montreal and serves as the Rabbi of a Conservative synagogue. I am very good friends with his daughter Kitra and can bear witness to how loving and wonderful Rabbi Cahana is to his family and community. Since the stroke, which happened about one month ago, Rabbi Cahana has lost most motor control of his body. His mind is functioning perfectly and so he continues to communicate through blinking as he slowly recovers from this tragedy. Kitra sent me the Dvar Torah below that is so packed with honest and deep wisdom and I was given permission to share it with you. Though it is about an earlier parsha (Dvarim), it is fitting to our portion too.

This week, we read in 8:3, “…not by bread alone does a person live, rather by the entire expression of G-d’s word does man live.” The parallel of this pasuk with the Dvar below about the struggle to find voice and hear the word is very powerful. Please read on and if you have any reactions or message for the writer I am happy to pass it on.

Parashat Dvarim 

 ברוך אתה ה' אלוקינו מלך העולם מתיר אסורים
Blessed are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who releases the bound.

    An uncle of mine, an Israeli gentleman farmer, liked to say, “Just add more phosphorus; nothing should ever stop growing.”  The latter part of the sentence still intrigues.  I certainly don’t subscribe to the notion that all of nature devolves into mulch.  Creation has more spiritual content than that.  No, G-d’s Creation gives meaning from the Beginning to the End.  Pursuing the knowledge of G-d at every juncture of life is the purpose of Judaism.  We must chase after G-d in every encounter and always distinguish between good and evil in cold nature.
    Not long ago, our morning minyan took on a challenge at the breakfast to bring to the table our personal stories of deep Jewish wisdom.  Perry Lande, עליו השלום, brought a teaching that still impresses me.  He said that he was taught by his father, Shepsel, זכרונו לברכה, before he joined the Canadian Army, that HaShem gives everyone “arba amot” to take care of—about 6 feet square in land and air.  If you keep yours b’seder in order, he told us, then usually everything comes out alright.  An ama is about 1 ½ feet—the distance between our organs and our limbs.   We measure an “ama” by our reach—the space from our elbow to the tip of our longest finger, which is exactly where we put our tefillin shel yad on while making the bracha of love to G-d. 
      Taking care of our own spheres is a deep secret of how we can tend the divine garden and make it perfect.  However, in times of crisis, we need to open our ”arba amot”  and reach out to others and for others.  No ordeal should be experienced alone.  How wondrously close all of G-d’s creatures are to each other and what an impact we can have in each others’ lives.  I know that I have experienced this miracle and beyond.  I’m asking for us all to expand our reach, even as I cannot find mine just now.

    From this vantage at the Montreal Neurological Institute, I’m deeply inspired by our Jewish values. Our Jewish Community doesn’t allow anyone, any family, to feel isolated and our Beth-El family outshines my life.  As I am trying to find my own shofar voice—naturally, brokenly, triumphantly—tekiah, shvarim, teruah, I’m calling out to shul in gratitude: tekiah gdolah.  And please collect your wisdom stories for the shul, share them and forward them around.
     We always read Parashat Dvarim on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av to dispel the loneliness of the Hurban,  the destruction of the Temple.  Moshe Rabbenu cries to G-d, “How can I bear this people alone?”  How odd this statement.  He did not even want to start the mission.  You recall that he told G-d that he couldn’t speak, but, in fact, we never see this evidenced.  Moshe was the most effective, eloquent orator ever.  He was G-d’s mouthpiece.  How could he ever say that he was a stammerer?
        The Five Books of the Torah are filled with G-d’s speech.  In Bereshit, G-d calls out everything in nature and gives meaning to Creation.  In Shmot, G-d names the People and gives us purpose.  In Vayikra, G-d calls us personally.  In Bamidbar, G-d speaks to the Jewish People from the Ohel Moed. Now we begin Dvarim - Elu Dvarim - These are the words.
        Moshe Rabeinu does not think that he cannot speak; he believes that the people cannot hear or understand G-d's meaning and the beauty of life. Moshe feels alone if he doesn't connect Israel to G-d. We are imprisoned if we only have a relationship with our G-d alone. We need community to find G-d together.

ברוך אתה ה' אלוקינו מלך העולם מתיר אסורים

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Ronnie Cahana


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