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Parashat Shoftim

September 6, 2011

Ki ata ba el-ha’aretz, asher Adonai Elohekha notein lekha-lo tilmad la’asot, keto’avot hagoyim haheim, “When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations” (Deut 18:9).

In Parashat Shoftim, the land of which Moses speaks is the Promised Land, and his warning is specified in subsequent verses. We are to stay away from human sacrificing, divination, soothsayers, enchanters, sorcerers, charmers, wizards, and necromancers. There are no shortcuts and no special intermediaries.

Moses then continues his teaching: Tamim tihyeh, im Adonai Elohekha,”Thou shalt be whole-hearted with the Lord thy God” (Deut. 18:13). We are to be “whole-hearted” with Adonai our God. The Hertz commentary (p.827) cites Rashi’s interpretation of verse 13: “Walk with Him whole-heartedly and hope in Him. Pry not into the veiled future, but accept whatever lot befalls you. Then will you be His people and His portion.”

I am particularly drawn to Rashi’s use of the word “hope”. Rashi doesn’t say, “trust in the Lord and everything will work out.” Life is challenging and we may be so downhearted sometimes that we cannot see beyond our tears. But, to be whole-hearted with God is to basically replace any doubt with faith. When things can’t seem to get any worse; that is when one must truly believe and seek to re-member; to re-connect. Sometimes we think we want to know what the future will be, because we think we can redirect things and avoid catastrophe. But, Rashi tells us to avoid that temptation, and to accept our lot.  Whole is complete. It is hard for us to give ourselves over completely; wholeheartedly, but that is the only way this relationship works. For some it is a constant struggle.

Ellen Frankel, using the voices of “Our Mothers” and “Our Daughters” argues against the natural human temptation to find shortcuts and intermediaries in The Five Books of Miriam, a Woman’s Commentary on the Torah:

….Three thousand years after the Torah pronounced this warning, our “modern” world still abounds in witchcraft and magic, fortunetellers, astrologers, mediums…… Which proves that even with our advanced technology and hardheaded reason, we’re still vulnerable to the three demons that have always threatened people: scarcity, evil, and death. As much as we might want to confine our religious beliefs to the ethical monotheism of the Torah and Jewish tradition, we have to admit that that’s not enough for us. It’s too abstract, too removed from our own daily lives and losses, too intangible. (pp. 268-269).

I’ll admit there have been times, especially in this economic environment, when I’ve been tempted to have someone tell my fortune, or read my palm. It might help to have some “inside information” to help me make the right decisions on things. Maybe there are people who can really harvest that information and maybe that’s why these types of practitioners are still around. But, I believe the flow from Source to the individual is always there. Speaking only for myself, I’m the one who forgets to connect, and then I feel my universe spinning a bit out of control. When I remember to stop, to breathe, to recognize God’s manifold blessings in my life, the answers come, or at least my ability to handle not having the answers.



Lois Kittner is a cantorial student at The Academy for Jewish Religion. She serves as Student Cantor at Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel of Maywood, New Jersey.