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		                                    Word Of Torah		                                </span>

Word of Torah

Written by: Student Cantor Isaac Sonett-Assor

Parashat Va-Etchanan

 
When Rabbi Segal and I began speaking about the opportunity to share this summer with the AJC community, she noted how important the landscape of the valley is to the spiritual experience of our congregation. At the time, I could imagine what she meant in theory, yet I knew I would have to experience life here to understand the feeling truly. Between the glorious blanket of stars that I get to witness every evening and the sunsets that color my evening drive, I really have never been more aware of the vastness and wonder of our world. And, I have never had greater appreciation for the words, “Blessed is the One who creates the heavenly lights,” which we recite together during our morning minyan. 
 
Our Torah portion Va-Etchanan and its accompanying Haftarah from the Book of Isaiah expresses a paradox that lives at the heart of Judaism: the limits of the universe cannot be fathomed, yet each individual life is significant and sacred. One might reason, “I am just an individual person, one of nearly 8 billion on this earth at this time with an endless universe stretching far beyond the stars; surely my actions couldn’t possibly matter in the grand scheme of space and time.” 
 
The prophet Isaiah, trying to make sense of a world of pain and exile, imagines the God of the Universe who “measured out the waters of the world in the palm of God’s hand and meted out the skies with the span of God’s fingers” (Isaiah 40:12). Just a few chapters later, Isaiah will conclude that the world is not governed by the chaos of warring gods. Rather, the entire universe is the dominion of one God, “the first and the last” (44:6).
 
Isaiah comforts the people of Israel as they sit and weep by the rivers of Babylon, long after Moses taught their (and our) ancestors the words, “Hear, O Israel, Adonai our God, Adonai is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Long after Moses instructed them to “teach these words to your children and to recite them at home and on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up” (6:7). Throughout the sermons that comprise the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses continually tries to impress upon his congregation that the deeds of human beings have a very real impact on the vast world around them and the even vaster God. Could there be a more empowering statement about the significance of life? 
 
Jewish tradition teaches us to recite the words of the Sh’ma twice a day, when we lie down and when we rise up. And each time we do, we precede it by two blessings: a blessing for the Creator of the universe and a blessing for the One who loves the people of Israel. May we always keep both of these blessings in mind, humbled by the smallness of our place in the world yet deeply conscious of its undeniable importance.

 

Wed, July 28 2021 19 Av 5781