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July 28, 2017

07/27/2017 01:37:37 PM


Yair D. Robinson

Parashat D’varim


In several of his books, Martin Buber tells the story of a famous Hassidic rabbi, Abraham Yaakov of Sadagora. The rabbi insisted that something can be learned from everything, even from the inventions of his time.

"Everything can teach us something, and not only everything God has created. What man has made has also something to teach us."
"What can we learn from a train?" one [student] asked dubiously.
"That because of one second one can miss everything."
"And from the telegraph?"
"That every word is counted and charged."
"And the telephone?"
"That what we say here is heard there."

This week we begin Deuteronomy, whose Hebrew name is “Words”, Devarim. Specifically, these are the words Moses shares before Israel enters the land, the words Moses has chosen to inspire and educate his people before they fulfill their destiny without him. The rabbis imagine him not just speaking from the mountaintop, but also speaking quietly to each Israelite in the way he or she could understand, taking the time to speak to each person with care. Compare that to our current experience with words. It seems that every day we see what happens when words are treated thoughtlessly, and the damage that can happen when we fail to account for our words, or who might be listening. Whether it’s damaging and offensive words in a tweet or hurled directly at someone with whom we disagree, regardless of relationship, our words and the timing of those words matter.

Next week is also Tisha B’av, the holiday commemorating the destruction of the Temple, and the Rabbis of the Talmud understood the reason for that destruction being sinat chinam, senseless hatred, inspired by callous and careless words. I don’t observe the 9th of Av for a host of reasons, but let me suggest that we should spend this week reflecting on how we use our words. Are we taking a good account of our words? Are we mindful of who is listening? Are we taking the opportunity to speak lovingly with one another? May we fulfill the words of our prayerbook, the words of the psalms, O God, open our lips that our mouths may proclaim you Glory, in all we say. Amen.

Sun, September 22 2019 22 Elul 5779