Rabbi Robinson’s Sermon Parasht Vayelech

Yair Robinson

Parashat Vayelech



This past Thursday we had a meeting of the Planned Parenthood of Delaware Clergy for Choice. And by meeting, of course, I mean Zoom. Zoom gali gali. We’ve been meeting monthly for years and had taken the summer off, and it was nice to have the band back together, including some new faces. The convener asked us to introduce ourselves to the new folks and say one thing that we like about the group. As we went around—though I’m not sure that’s quite the right verb these days on our rectangular screens—many of our group talked about the work, the commitment to reproductive justice and supporting the staff and patients at Planned Parenthood, but also the camaraderie, the experience of being with clergy who are like-minded, but also supportive of one another. Indeed, so much of what we do is being present for one another aside from the work of the committee; being a chevre, a fellowship for one another, giving each other strength and encouragement.

Strength and encouragement. Those words have, perhaps, a different meaning 6 months into our pandemic, as our society churns on the anguish over injustice and civil rights, as each of us, in our own way, struggles with not being able to be with the people we love in quite the way we would prefer, as every choice we make seems to requires an added layer of thoughtfulness, intentionality, and care. Those words are, in so many ways, the theme of this month; as we move toward Rosh Hashanah—now only a week away now, we recite Psalm 27. Verse four, which the cantor sang at the beginning of services, is the most famous line, of course, but the last line is what you’ve heard me say before blowing the shofar each week. Hope in God; be strong and of good courage. Hope in God. And that idea is the theme of our reading this evening from Parashat Vayelech. As Moses, the one constant the Israelites have known through their wandering, the one who has been God’s Shaliach, God’s representative in the world, prepares to turn leadership of the community over to Joshua, he says both to the Israelites and to Joshua in public view: be strong and of good courage. The commentators are quick to say that this is to remind Israel and Joshua that God will be present with them as the enter the Land, but it seems to me that there is another layer of meaning; that Moses, saying this twice, directly to the people and to Joshua in view of the people, is also saying, “you have one another to strengthen and support each other. You are not alone.” So often in our lives, we have gathered our strength from community, from being with one another, emotionally, if not physically. So much of what has made these months so hard is that feeling of aloneness; even on Zoom, as we can’t make eye contact with one another. But as we approach a Rosh Hashanah that precludes us from being in person, we are reminded by our text: be strong and resolute. We are not alone.

So I ask you, as we prepare to read this text: what is bringing you strength? What is bringing you courage? What can you do to bring that to others, not only this week, but throughout this new year? Be strong and of good courage; be resolute. For we have one another. Amen.

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