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July 31, 2020 – Vaetchanan

Shabbat Message from Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

Parashat Vaetchanan – Deuteronomy 3:23-5:18

Parashat Vaetchanan continues Moses’ soliloquy to the Israelites as they stand at the border of the Promised Land.  What I appreciate about the book of Deuteronomy is the fact that though this particular journey of our people is coming to an end, as is Moses’ leadership, he continues to remind the people that the stormy their story,  doesn’t end just because the journey does or because Moses will no longer be leading them.  He reminds them of the blessings of following God’s laws and of the consequences of turning from God.  He reminds them of what it means to be a holy people, and he reminds the people that the choice is theirs, that they have the power to do and be holy, and build a great nation as they enter the Promised Land.

How fitting this parashah to this time in our country.  Yesterday, we said goodbye to Congressman John Lewis, an inspiring and great American leader.  Like Moses, he knew that his life was coming to end and a beautiful essay, penned by him in his last days, was published yesterday in the New York Times.  I am struck by how much his essay is like that of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy.  The essay  isn’t about him or what he accomplished but rather the promise that he sees in the generation of young people today.  The promise that he sees in this country if people come together and act out of love and faith instead of hate.  I appreciate his reminder of what it means to be a citizen of the democratic process which is at the heart of our great nation.

Like Moses, Congressman Lewis achieved much during his lifetime and had an incredible career as a leader, and like Moses he realized that the story wasn’t about him, but about people working together to achieve greatness.  Like Moses he recognized that being a leader doesn’t mean that one has to agree with everyone around him, but being a great leader means listening and working with others, not against them, to build bridges of understanding and possibility wherever one can for the greater good.

In his remarks at yesterday’s funeral, President George W. Bush said, “John and I had our disagreements of course – but in the America John Lewis fought for, and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action.  We the people, including congressmen and presidents, can have differing views on how to perfect our union while sharing the conviction that our nation, however flawed, is a good and noble one. We live in a better and nobler country today because of John Lewis and his abiding faith in the power of God, the power of democracy and in the power of love to lift us all to a higher ground. The story that began in Troy isn’t ending here, nor is the work. John Lewis lives forever in his Father’s house, and he will live forever in the hearts of Americans, who act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with their God.”

The work of nation building didn’t end the moment the Israelites crossed the border into the Promised Land and the work of a better America for which Congressman John Lewis worked and fought doesn’t end with his death.   Moses passed the mantle of leadership to Joshua and the generations to follow with the words “Chazak V’Ematz – Be Strong and Courageous,” and Congressman Lewis left us final “marching orders,” “walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”

May these words guide us as we continue the work of making our country and our world a Sukkat Shalom – a shelter, a haven, of peace!!

Shabbat Shalom!