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Deut.9:1-19 EIKEV. What is Torah? – Maureen Grossman

Today we have read from the Torah. Do we sometimes stop to ask what exactly is the Torah?

Some believe that the Torah is the word of God, literally, and work hard to justify some of the more unpleasant aspects of the writings.

Recently in Deuteronomy, Pinchas killed two people with one staff and God did not severely punish him. It reminds me of the current situation in Manilla, where vigilantes and some police are killing drug dealers and drug takers, citizens called “less than human” by their President.

Later in Deuteronomy, God asks …“why did you not kill the women?” I struggle to come to terms with such questions.

Another view is that the Torah is God inspired and guided, but definitely written by different authors. Considering evidence such as the different styles of writing, and the different words for God’s name, the conclusion is that the Torah is the work of humans.

Ittay Flescher describes the Torah as the outcome of “When the ancient Israelites decided that it was time to write down their narrative of history”

Ittay is an Israeli, currently teaching at the Jewish Museum of Australia. He writes for the weekly Torah Commentary “Limmud on one Leg” and contributes to Limmud OZ, and has plans to present to Limmud conferences around the world

 To continue with Ittay’s words

“When the ancient Israelites decided that it was time to write down their narrative of history, there must have been a huge debate about how to describe the God character. Should it be male or female? Jealous or forgiving? Kind or cruel? Unbending or open to persuasion?”

Is this another reason to study Torah, to find out more about God? What can we learn about “the God character” from this week’s Parashah?

In the first seven verses the Israelites are about to cross the Jordan and face the Anakites. The scouts had seen the Anakites and the Israelites are not too optimistic about the outcome of the battle. However God is going to destroy the Anakites because they are wicked, ensuring that the Israelites can possess their land

Is this a just God, a God who destroys the wicked, allowing the Israelites to win, forewarning them and giving them confidence in battle, not because of their virtue, but because of the Covenant with their ancestors?

It seems that an enraged God perseveres with the Israelites despite that, according to Moses, the Israelites had provoked God and been defiant from the time they left Egypt.

Later in the Parashah Moses reminds the people of how he brought down the tablets of stone, the Ten Commandments, from the mountain only to see the Israelites worshipping a golden calf just as God had told him. God was again so angry. When I first read this I thought God was about to give up on the Israelites and find a more worthy people, we would have been different Jews then, but, largely due to Moses’s intercession (yes God is open to persuasion) God perseveres. A covenant is a covenant.

Moving on to perseverance in a different sphere

Don’t think that I am saying that all Olympians are gods, but I cannot resist moving on to the Olympics for examples of modern day perseverance. If you watched any of the Olympic games you would have been aware of, not just the athletic ability, but the importance of persevering, having that god-like quality to get there and to win.

Irene, our ViceChair, said in her recent sermon that we should get to know members of our community better, so in case you do not know of my near obsession with horses, I will use a horse/rider example of perseverance on the road to the Olympics, Charlotte Dujardin and her horse Valegro.

Valegro was considered unsuitable for dressage, he did not have the physique or the temperament, his owner gave up on him and tried to sell him, but that all fell through, so as a five year old he was more or less handed over to Charlotte, a student at the stable, to see what she could do with him, and starting from a very low point the partnership won three gold medals. That is perseverance.

I have to put in one more example, simply because it appealed to me. I have never thrown a hammer, and I had never heard of Sophie Hitchon, but certainly she is an example of not giving up on the day. With her first throw she hit the post of the hammer cage, her last throw exceeded her own and other people’s expectations and won the bronze. Never give up.

Returning to Ittay and History

Maybe the Torah is the result of the Israelites writing their History. We have a fascination for recording our history, as individuals we search for our ancestors, as a people we commemorate events in our past, and in particular we strive to ensure that the more recent horror of the Holocaust is recorded. Never again? Humanity certainly needs to persevere in learning from the past.

We remember our past in many of our prayers and rituals, High Holy days being just one example

We are rapidly approaching High Holy Days and it is time to prepare. We will dust the “Days of Awe” Machzor and find our favourite honey cake recipe (probably inherited from our grandparents) and start to count the days.

Our current Keshet gives us ideas on how to prepare (p29)

But I begin my preparation by asking myself a series of questions.

Why am I going to the marquee with all these people?

What will I get out of it?

What do I expect to contribute?

Like others I look back at the last year and forward with determination to the next. I make one special New Year Resolution, more significant that at the secular New Year (not just I will eat less chocolate, but more about relationships with people) The trouble is like Sophie I seem to hit the hammer post and need to try again.

Will you make any resolutions?

I can suggest a few

How about “I will come to synagogue more often”?

Not necessarily to services, though they are an important leg of the three legged stool that supports our community, but maybe to study groups and social events.

Or maybe “I will volunteer to help with something I have not done before”

Reverting to History, we need an archivist to record the synagogues history and help with our preparation for our 50th anniversary. More generally we always need people to cook, drive, phone and maybe visit. Helen, our community support worker is here today. No need to wait for High Holy Days!

If like me you do make resolutions but just keep hitting the hammer post, be god-like and persevere. Maybe one day, like Sophie, we will all get bronze or with god’s will instead of hitting the hammer post we can even win the gold

Maureen Grossman


Tue, 20 October 2020 2 Cheshvan 5781