What Can We Learn about Teshuvah from God, Moses and Joshua?

Parashat Vayeilech 5782 / פרשת וַיֵּלֶךְ
Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30
Shabbat Shuvah

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of Returning. It is so named after the reading from Prophets that exhorts us to return to God, a fitting message for the Shabbat that falls between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, a period known as Aseret Yemei Teshuva or Ten Days of Repentance. Though Shabbat Shuvah gets its name from the haftarah this week, the Torah reading itself, Vayeilech, suggests how we might approach the task of “returning.”

In Vayeilech, God summons Moses and Joshua to the Tent of Meeting for an intimate conversation about the future:

The LORD said to Moses: The time is drawing near for you to die. Call Joshua and present yourselves in the Tent of Meeting, that I may instruct him. Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the Tent of Meeting. The LORD appeared in the Tent, in a pillar of cloud, the pillar of cloud having come to rest at the entrance of the tent. (Deut. 31:14-15.)

Once God is present before Moses and Joshua, God warns them that the People will stray after foreign gods upon entering the Promised Land. To teach them the errors of their ways, God will hide God’s countenance from them, causing great misfortune to befall the Chosen People. (In next week’s Torah portion, Ha’azinu, Moses reads a poem to the People in which God publicly reveals further details about their faithlessness and resulting demise.)

But it’s not the prophecy of Israel’s downfall that strikes me as most apropos for Shabbat Shuvah. Rather, it’s what God says speaks directly to Moses and Joshua. To Moses, God says, “You are soon to lie with your fathers.” (Deut. 31:16) Here we have God alerting Moses to the fact that his death is imminent. This was no surprise to Moses, of course, for he already knew that God would take his life before he got to enter the Land. Still, I imagine that upon hearing these words “You are soon to lie with your fathers.” Moses might have engaged in a quick review of his life and asked himself how might he make the best use of the days that remain. Though Moses would have more of God’s teaching to share with the People, how else might he make constructive use of his limited time here on earth?

Isn’t the question of how we can best use our time the central question of teshuvah? If we’re honest with ourselves, when we do heshbon hanefesh, an accounting of our souls, we’ll recognize that we don’t always use our selves to make the world a better place. We squander time with vanities and frivolities. Worse, we engage in injurious speech and hurtful behavior. What if we knew our lives were coming to a close? How might we correct course for the good and right?

Facing our mistakes, working to mend our ways, and staying true to the course we set for ourselves are all daunting tasks. This is what we must do, though. It is also what Joshua had to do when he would lead the people over the Jordan River:

And God charged Joshua son of Nun: “Be strong and resolute: for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them on oath, and I will be with you.” (Deut. 31:23)

God girds Joshua for a difficult future with the words “Hazak ve’ematz, Be strong and resolute.” I have offered these words to students, friends and loved ones when they were about to face a trial in their lives. Strength and resolve does not mean setting one’s fears aside or denying the magnitude of the challenges ahead. Rather, strength and resolve entail believing in one’s self, despite one’s fears, and committing always to move forward.

As I think about the work of teshuvah, of returning and repentance, I imagine each of us standing in place of Moses and Joshua in the Tent of Meeting. Like God reminds Moses, the days of our lives are not infinite. We shouldn’t forget that. Before our time runs out, how can we make a difference, and how can we prepare the way for those who will carry on after us? While we need to treasure each day, we also need to lean into whatever will come our way with strength and resolve. In this respect, we are not only like Moses, but we are also like his disciple Joshua, who would one day succeed him.

We cannot know what the future holds. We don’t have the benefit of God’s prophecy to prepare us for tomorrow. As we take stock of where we are today, though, we can choose to do better going forward and enter the unknown with strength and resolve.

Why We Do the Things We Do (or Don’t)

Ki Tavo / פרשת כי־תבוא
Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8

(I am pleased to share this devar Torah from September 2015, which also coincided with the eve of Selichot. In it, I encourage us to consider, as the rabbis did, what motivates us to change.)

This Saturday night is Selichot, a service that punctuates the coming of the Days of Awe in just over a week. The Selichot service represents a sort of “greatest hits” of the High Holy Days, with penitential hymns and familiar melodies from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Selichot, which means roughly “apologies” or asking forgiveness for our wrongdoings, is intended to help with the process of teshuva, repentance or, literally, “turning;” we are to contemplate how we can become the best version of ourselves in the year ahead.

Part of doing teshuva involves asking ourselves why we do the things we do and why we don’t do the things we don’t do. Why do we strive to avoid negative behaviors? We do strive to do only good?

These are questions that are addressed in a way in this week’s Torah reading. In Ki Tavo our ancestors are told that as soon as they enter Canaan, they are to undergo a ritual to remind them of the blessings that follow from obeying God’s mitzvot, commandments, and the curses that will ensue should Israel go astray by neglecting the mitzvot and going after foreign gods.

In his article Between Fear and Awe, my colleague Rabbi Shai Held, Co-Founder and Chair in Jewish Thought of Mechon Hadar, discusses two forces that prevent us from falling into disfavor with God, forces that help avert the terrible curses that await us if we disobey God’s commands. The forces are fear and awe, both of which are reasonable translations of yirah which the Torah commands us to feel. Rabbi Held shares the debate between rabbis across generations whether it is preferable to obey God out of fear of punishment or whether obedience should be rooted in awe and reverence for God’s self.

At one point, Rabbi Held notes that the word todah has a similar dual meaning as yirah. Today can be at once thankfulness for our bounty and praise for the One who Gives. In reality, though, the connection between todah and yirah is more than comparative. They are opposite sides of the same coin. We may be motivated to walk in God’s ways as much by todah, with all it connotes, as we are by yirah with all its connotations. Is it not the case that we avoid bad behaviors and exhibit good ones because sometimes we look forward to the benefits that come with making certain choices? Is it also not the case that sometimes we make choices out of respect and gratitude for God or, on a human level, for another person?

I encourage us to examine why we do what we do (or don’t) as we undergo a close examination of our souls during this penitential season. Perhaps by seeing where we are on this grid of fear<>awe/thankfulness<>gratitude we will be able to do teshuva in a way that will lead us on the right path not only for the coming year but well into the future.

Justice for Our Planet Shall We Pursue

Parashat Shoftim 5781 / פרשת שׁוֹפְטִים
Torah Portion: Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 

This week, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a summary of a report 6-years in the making, involving more than 200 authors whose work is derived from some 14,000 peer-reviewed studies related to the physical science of climate change. The full report is almost 4,000 pages long. The summary, however, is only 40 pages. 

I read about the report in Jewish Currents magazine, where I found an interview conducted by the magazine’s newsletter editor with a staff writer from The New Republic who covers climate policy. What I learned from the writer, Kate Aronoff, is that the information found in this new report is both horrifying and hopeful.

She says, “It’s not so much new information as a synthesis that allows us to say with confidence that climate is ‘unequivocally’ caused by human activity — mostly the burning of fossil fuels. While much of it isn’t new, the tone scientists, who tend to underplay things, take up in it — calling this ‘code red for humanity,’ for instance — should be a wake-up call.”

But, Aronoff says, the mainstream media outlets are boiling the 4,000 into “the most doom-filled headlines you can imagine. The big takeaway of the coverage has been that climate change is now irreversible, that we have passed the 1.5 Celsius degree temperature increase threshold..” She explains that while there is some basis for these claims in the report, these headlines don’t present the full picture. In fact, we’ve warmed the planet by about 1.1 degrees, which is very concerning, and there’s enough carbon in the atmosphere for that to to increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. BUT that hasn’t happened yet, in part because we have forests that absorb carbon from the atmosphere.”

Rather than read into the report the idea that we’ve passed a point of no-return, Aronoff  says, we should adopt the mindset that “there’s no point at which you can say that we might as well just give up. There’s plenty of  suffering that can be prevented.” She points to the fact that every 10th of a degree Celsius of warming “translates to tens of thousands of lives lost, so every little incremental step we can take to mitigate climate change matters a tremendous amount.”

Aronoff then goes on to list a number of policies which, if adopted and executed wisely, could keep things from getting “infinitely worse.” 

What Aronoff and the scientists behind the climate research are suggesting, I believe, is that we must all do our part to prevent things from getting infinitely worse by adopting new mindsets and modes of behavior and by getting involved in the political system. From my point of view, heading this call is a matter of environmental justice.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim (or “Judges”), we read the words: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof — Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that Eternal your God is giving you.” What does this mean? It means that for us to achieve the ideal of transforming the world into the malkhut Shadai — the kingdom of the Almighty — we must be committed to pursuing justice under all circumstances, in all places and for all time. Rashi, the medieval biblical commentator, says “consider what you do, and conduct yourselves in every judgment as if the blessed Holy One were standing before you.” The pursuit of justice includes enforcing our laws equitably and judging without prejudice. But it also means creating a world in which all human beings can survive and thrive, where the image of the Divine can shine forth from each unique soul.

In a world increasingly ravished by drought, wildfires, devastating flooding, warming waters, catastrophic storms, rising tides and rising temperatures, we must take seriously our tradition’s call to pursue justice for the natural world.

We see a hint of this imperative for environmental justice in the laws of warfare, that are also part of this week’s reading (Deut. 20:19): When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its fruit trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down.” While the Torah does permit armies to cut down non-fruit-bearing trees for the construction of siegeworks, in general it prohibits the kind of deforestation that makes human life unsustainable. Fruit trees take years to bear fruit, and the Torah prohibits us from using the fruits for the first three years of a tree’s life. This wartime prohibition is a reminder of our dependency on the natural world for our very existence. If we destroy fruit trees, we might not be alive to eat the fruits of trees that we plant in their place. If we destroy our planet, the science is saying, at some point we won’t be able to repair it. And if we can’t establish a healthy balance between humanity’s needs and what is needed for the planet to sustain us, we will eventually perish and it will happen at the rate of tens of thousands per 1/10th of a degree Celsius, if not quicker. We already see how our friends and families in other parts of the world are suffering, not to mention what is happening in economically depressed countries who lack the medical resources to soften the health-related blows of climate change.

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof. Let us do all in our power to secure justice for our planet and all God’s creatures.  Tzedek for ourselves. Tzedek for all people. Tzedek now. Tzedek always. Justice, justice shall we pursue.

Being Our Own Worst Enemy

Parashat Eikev / פרשת עקב

Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

As the People of Israel stand poised to enter the land that God had promised them, they learn yet another important lesson about gratitude and humility. In Parashat Eikev, Moses exhorts the people to observe God’s commandments upon entering the land so that they may “thrive and increase and be able to possess the land…” (Deut. 8:1). At the same time, Moses reminds Israel how God cared for them in the wilderness, despite their having angered God on several occasions. Indeed, Moses adds, “it is for not any virtue of yours that that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess” (Deut. 9:6). God is a God of forbearance who is bringing Israel into the Land because God loves them, as an act of grace, not because they necessarily deserve all that God has given them or will continue to give them.

Moses continues: “Remember, never forget, how you provoked the Lord your God to anger in the wilderness: from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you reached this place, you have continued defiant toward the Lord” (Deut. 9:7). Should Israel forget God’s beneficence and come to believe that they have brought prosperity on themselves, they should think again. Should they forget God’s acts of hesed – lovingkindness – toward them and assume an attitude of haughtiness and entitlement, they will begin to ignore the commandments and spurn God, thus, provoking God’s wrath in a way they couldn’t possibly have imagined. In short, nothing good could come from taking their relationship with God for granted.

Where I see this point being made most dramatically is in the phrase, “Remember, never forget.” The Hebrew here is “Zechor. Al tishkach.” “You are to remember your tendency to anger God. Don’t forget all that you’ve done to put your relationship with God in jeopardy. This is serious business, folks. You don’t want to keep getting on God’s bad side after all that God has done for you from the time God freed you from bondage in Egypt until now.”

Anyone familiar with Israel’s battles during the exodus from Egypt will recognize the phrase “Zechor. Al tishkash.” which is used elsewhere in the Torah, albeit in a slightly different grammatical form and separated by several verses. In chapter 17 of Exodus, we read how Israel did battle with a nomadic tribe of Edomites known as the Amalekites and were victorious. Later, in Deuteronomy chapter 25, Moses recalls that event: “Remember (Zachor) what Amalek did to you on your journey” (Deut. 25:18), i.e. they attacked the weakest Israelites – the elderly, the infirm, the weak – from behind. “Therefore, when God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget (Lo tishkach)!” (Deut. 25:19). When faced with an ever-present reality of being surrounded by enemies, Israel is told “Remember… Don’t forget.”

What are we to make of the dual use of this phrase “Zechor. Al tishkash.” — once in reference to the Amalekites; once in reference to Israel’s own transgressions against God? Just as Israel needs to be wary of external threats to their existence, like the Amalekites, they must also be wary of internal threats, threats like hubris, entitlement, and becoming disconnected from their God. In other words, Israel must not become its own worst enemy.

In our lives, how often do we find ourselves becoming our own worst enemies, impeding our own progress, or worse, bringing about our own downfall? We develop habits, attitudes, behaviors that impede our functioning. We strive for success in all we do, yet sometimes we encounter obstacles that we ourselves create. And while we might believe that the world is our oyster, the reality can be quite different. Life is full of setbacks. In fact, sometimes it seems that the odds are stacked against us. But we forget that because of how we go through the world, we may be the very thing that brings us down.

Like our ancestors before us, none of us is entitled to “thrive and prosper.” Success requires hard work and self-discipline. It also requires an attitude of humility and gratitude. The moment we fail to remember how interconnected we all are, the moment we forget God’s grace-filled presence in our lives, we risk becoming lone agents in the world and struggling for own survival. We must remember and not forget that it is through the outstretched arms of friends, family, co-workers, teachers, and others, that we are strengthened. These are the outstretched arms of God, for which we must be grateful. Remember. Don’t forget.

The One

Parashat Vaetchanan 5781 / פרשת וָאֶתְחַנַּן
Torah Portion: Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11

Dear Reader,

We live in a world whose divisions among humankind are too numerous to count. Rather than allowing ourselves to celebrate our differences, too often we use our differences to justify everything from dismissive eyerolls to murder and outright warfare. In Judaism, we recognize that we live among many nations with many beliefs. While it is true that the Torah contains many stories of God sanctioning the wholesale slaughter of peoples whose belief systems God deems too tempting for the nascent nation of Israel to resist, the larger, enduring picture is one in which Israel and the nations of the world live harmoniously side-by-side and are united in their allegiance to the One God, each in their own ways.

I was touched by the insightful teaching of my friend and colleague Rabbi Lewis Warshaeuer this week. Rabbi Warshaeuer’s creative reading of this week’s Torah portion, Vaethanan, speaks to the commitment of our sages to create a world in which “God’s name shall be One.” I am honored to share Rabbi Warshaeuer’s teaching with you here. Enjoy!

Bivrachot/With blessings,
Rabbi Dan


The One

Rabbi Lewis Warshauer
Parashat Vaethanan 5781
July 24, 2021 / 14 Av 5781

Jews like to think that Judaism is a refined monotheism, purged of the dross of the pagans. But parts of the Bible point to a more raw set of ideas about God and other gods:

And when you look up to the sky and behold the sun and the moon and the stars, the whole heavenly host, you must not be lured into bowing down to them or serving them. These the LORD your God allotted (halak)to other peoples everywhere under heaven (Deuteronomy 4:19)

A very plausible reading of this passage is that the God of the Israelites has actually authorized other nations to serve—that is, to worship– the sun and moon and stars.

Not surprisingly, the rabbinic sages resisted this notion. The Talmud has an explanation attributed to Rav, the first-generation leader of Talmud scholars, that is based on a play on words:

The verse teaches that God caused the nations to slip [sheheḥelikan] by matters (that seemingly indicate that idol worship is effective) in order to expel the nations from the world (due to their decision to engage in idol worship.) (Avodah Zarah 55a)

But another Talmudic passage (Megillah 9a-b) takes a different view of this verse, based on the Greek translation of the Bible. The oldest translation of the Bible into Greek, a work known as the Septuagint, is attributed by modern scholarship to the Jewish community in Alexandria and is thought to date as far back as the 200’s BCE. The Talmud however, attributes the translation to a semi-miraculous event in which seventy Jewish scholars, summoned by King Ptolemy, and each working independently, came up with identical translations from the Hebrew into Greek.

Not only that, but the translators (still, according the Talmudic version) changed certain Biblical verses when rendering them into Greek in order to keep them from being misinterpreted. One of these was the verse from Deuteronomy, which was changed from “these (the sun and the moon and the stars)… God allotted to other nations” to “God allotted to shine on other nations”—thus removing the plainer sense of the Hebrew text that God allotted the heavenly bodies to other nations for worship purposes.

Given all of this, one might ask: What are Jews supposed to believe about these matters? I would reframe the question: How have Jews expressed themselves about such matters?

For the answer, one needs to turn not to this passage in the Book of Deuteronomy– which is read in synagogue once year, nor to the ancient Greek translation, which is not part of the Jewish liturgical tradition—but to the Siddur, the prayer book. The Siddur provides a guide to two questions raised by the passage in Deuteronomy: what is the role of the sun, moon and stars; and what is the role of the nations of the world.

The opening daily prayers that lead up to Shema Yisrael include blessings, praise, for God who has created and activated the sun and the other lights in the sky in order to enlighten the world. The words of the Siddur depict them as sentient beings:

They are all beloved, they are all clear, they are all mighty

They all do with reverence and awe the will of their Creator…

With song and hymn they utter praises…

The daily prayers have, in effect, converted a Biblical notion of the sun, moon and stars as objects of worship by the nations of the world into subjects worship God and witness God’s greatness.

Regarding the nations of the world, the Jews express themselves most memorably in the Aleinu prayer at the end of the daily prayers by quoting the prophet Zecharia:

God shall reign over the whole earth

God shall be one and his name one

This is a way of saying that Jews do not aspire that all of humanity become specifically Jewish, but that all humanity will eventually recognize that there is one unity and unifying force in the universe.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Lewis Warshauer

Rabbi Lewis S. Warshauer teaches adult education seminars in Judaism. He has served as adjunct rabbi at Congregation Habonim in New York City and was a teaching fellow in the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Kollot/Voices of Learning program. Rabbi Warshauer served as assistant rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Kansas City, Missouri, from 1997 to 2000. He received his ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1997, and was a recipient of a Wexner Graduate Fellowship.As part of his rabbinical training, he studied at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem. He also studied at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem.

Moses’s Concession: Too Little Too Late?

Devarim / פרשת דברים
Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22

I wrote the following devar Torah (word of Torah) in June 2015 while on a family road trip. I hadn’t thought about it at the time, but every day is a family road trip of sorts. As individuals, communities, and nations, we are always on the move. Each day presents new challenges and new opportunities. We can’t always know when the next pandemic, flood or political crisis will appear. We also can’t always know when we’ll see the next rainbow, celebrate a birth, or land our dream job. In effect, we all write our words of Torah in the midst of life as we live it, on the road trip of life.

We are facing unprecedented challenges in our world today, challenges that make it difficult to plan and embark on a road trip that is fun and enjoyable. Floods, wildfires, deadly heat, Covid-19, warfare, social unrest are just some of the roadblocks that we face. Now, more than ever, human beings need to realize that we’re all on this trip together. Though the forces of nature and the will to power by narrow-minded, hard-hearted rulers and lawmakers may exacerbate our differences and cause further division, we the people must strive to stay connected across the great divide. We must not lose sight of the Divine spark in our rivals, lest they become our enemies. And we must not only muster restraint in confronting our enemies, but actively work to create a world that permits our enemies to become no more than rivals, if not friends.

This piece from 2015 speaks about the importance of compassionate leadership in times of travail. Moses seldom met those who contested his leadership or lost faith in God with compassion. Yes, he argued with God not to destroy the entire People, but he never empathized with those who disagreed with him. In this essay, I credit Moses for sowing the seeds of compassion as the Israelites are about to overtake Canaan, but I wonder how the journey might have been different had Moses shown such compassion all along. Perhaps the journey would have taken only a year or two. Perhaps the generation of adult males who left Egypt would have lived to enter the Land. Perhaps Moses himself would have been privileged to accompany the People into that Land. Perhaps we would have inherited a kinder, gentler Torah without so much killing and without endless portrayals of the basest aspects of human nature.

I’ve couched my comments in terms of leadership. In truth, we all have the capacity to lead and we must exercise that capacity daily. This is the meaning of being a “light unto the nations” and “a holy nation and kingdom of priests.” May we all exercise compassionate leadership every day of life’s road trip.

Blessings,
Rabbi Dan
7/16/2021


This week we begin reading the last of the Five Books of Moses, Deuteronomy or Devarim, which comprises Moses’s final speech, a pep talk of sorts, to the People of Israel before they enter the Promised Land. He reminds Israel of their trials and tribulations during their 40-year sojourn from Egypt to the banks of the Jordan River, highlights key commandments revealed by God along the way, and exhorts Israel to remain faithful to their covenant with God.

As Moses begins to address Israel’s fateful insistence on spying out Canaan and their subsequent lack of faith that they could succeed in conquering the land, Moses says:

We set out from Horeb and traveled the great and terrible wilderness that you saw, along the road to the hill country of the Amorites, as the Lord our God had commanded us. (Deuteronomy 1:19)

“The great and terrible wilderness?” What could Moses mean by this phrase and why would he include it here? I believe the answers to these questions present a lesson about leadership, in general, and Moses’s leadership, in particular.

According to Rashi, the French medieval commentator, the wilderness is termed terrible  because “in it were serpents as [thick as] beams and scorpions as [big as] bows” (Sifrei). Surely, though, that is only part of the reason. Indeed, while the wilderness would have been home to countless venomous, frightful creatures, nowhere in Torah do we hear people complaining to Moses that there are too many snakes and scorpions. Rather, the people feared both a lack of food and water and the threat of attack. Regardless of what Rashi speculates or what the Israelites themselves murmured about, the reality was that the wilderness was a dangerous, inhospitable place for much of Israel’s journey. Moses, therefore, is exhibiting what a high school teacher of mine once called “a firm grasp of the obvious.”

What’s remarkable about Moses’s observation is that heretofore Moses hadn’t acknowledged the harsh conditions in which Israel found themselves. All those times when the people complained about the paucity of food, water, and safety, Moses responded out of anger and frustration: “How dare you challenge God’s plan after all God has done for you!” Moses never empathized with his followers. As a consequence of his lack of compassion throughout the trek, Moses created a gulf between him and his followers that the people filled will animosity and resentment.

Had Moses once conceded, “I know life is hard for us now. We are in a strange, foreboding place. Of course, you are miserable,” just maybe the malcontents in his midst would have seen Moses as one of them, as someone who shares their suffering, as someone who “gets” them. Had Moses exhibited an ounce of empathy, perhaps the masses wouldn’t have pushed him so hard to produce water that he would strike a rock not once, but twice, insult the people in his charge, and forfeit his chance to enter the Holy Land with them.

Is Moses’s acknowledgement of the people’s hardship this late in the game worthless? Is it too little too late? He certainly can’t go back in time and become a different leader. He can’t now create a culture of compassion and cooperation that hadn’t existed previously. Nonetheless, Moses’s recognition of the harshness of the wilderness at this point does serve an important function. As Israel readies itself to cross the Jordan and take possession of the Promised Land, Moses reminds them of all they’ve overcome to reach this moment. “You made it through the wilderness with God’s help and your own determination. Have confidence that you can now complete the journey into the Land to which God has led you.” Coming from a person who hadn’t previously connected to the people he had been leading, this message would now embolden Israel to fulfill the next stage of its mission.

Leaders can learn from both Moses’s mistakes and his successes. Leaders can more easily lead when they connect on a personal level with their charges. Leaders can avoid accusations of indifference and aloofness by empathizing with their charges as they face “great and terrible” circumstances. At the same time, leaders can effectively motivate their communities by holding before them a mirror, by reminding them all they are capable of.

This week we see something that Moses did well, and we should give him due credit. Imagine, though, how different our nation’s story might have been had Moses shown the people of Israel such compassion earlier on in their journey.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Daniel Aronson

Life is a sacred journey.

Parashat Matot-Masei 5781 / פרשת מַּטּוֹת־מַסְעֵי
Torah Portion: Numbers 30:2-36:13

This week has been one of those “cradle-to-grave” weeks that rabbi’s sometimes have, one of those weeks that take you on an emotional roller coaster and remind you, as the song title goes, “Life is a Highway.” (Tom Chochrane, 1991). At the beginning of the week, I had the privilege to officiate at a beautiful garden wedding. The next day, I witnessed the conversion of a newly adopted baby to Judaism, and this Shabbat our community will welcome her and hear the Hebrew name by which she will be known each time she is called to the Torah and at sacred rites of passage. Throughout the week, I also worked with two congregants in preparing for memorial services for their loved ones and on Wednesday I led an afternoon service for a man marking the 10th anniversary of his mother’s passing when she was 90 years old. Yes, life is a highway, and we’d best treasure every moment on this sacred journey from cradle to grave.

The Torah, in its most expansive sense, tells the story of the Jewish people from the very beginning of time to the end of days. The Five Books of Moses that constitute the Torah scrolls themselves conclude just before the Israelites enter the land that Adonai had promised to bequeath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendents, i.e. us. The books of the prophets, beginning with the book of Joshua, take us from the conquest of the land of Canaan to the establishment of the monarchy and the division of the territory into two kingdoms and ultimately to exile. The Oral Torah, the books of law and lore that were the brainchild of the rabbis in the early centuries of the first millenia teach us how to navigate the journey until the time when the Messiah will come and the Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem. Throughout the journey, the Land of Israel has been the destination, but to focus on the destination is to miss the real point of the Torah, which is that life itself is a sacred journey — one with twists and turns, one leading to where, we do not know for sure, but one that brings us closer to God and forges us into the human being that God wanted each of us to become.

This point is driven home in the opening verses of the second half of this week’s double Torah portion, Mattot-Mas’ei (Tribes-Journeys). Parashat Mas’ei begins: These were the journeys of the Israelites who started out from Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moses and Aaron. (Numbers 33:1) What follows is a mostly dry list of 20 place names where the Israelites stopped on their 40-year march from Egypt toward Canaan. 

At the steppes of Moab, on the east bank of the Jordan River, Moses records these place names knowing full well that he will not be among the Israelites who will enter the land that he just spent 40 years leading them to. Why would he do this? 

One reason is to remind the Israelites how faithful and resilient they are. God led them blindly on this trek. They had no idea what was around the corner or, for that matter, where they were going. The ones who lacked faith didn’t complete the journey. Those who did are invited to look back and to recall all they had endured. If they were focused only on the future, they would forget how great they are. They would forget how they had grown from a motley crew of slaves to a nation bound by a covenant with God. When we forget that life is really about the journey, we fail to internalize our own sense of greatness.

But another reason why Moses recorded the place names was to remind the people of all that God had done for them during their journey, miracles great and small. Even though God became incensed with them on more than one occasion, God never gave up on them. As the Israelites prepare for their greatest adventure — conquering and entering the land — they must recall how God has always been there for them and will be there for them now. 

Throughout the journey of our lives, we experience all kinds of things that show us what we are capable of and how much we are loved by God and those around us. At each step of the way, we grow stronger, we learn. We emerge from our darkest moments into the light, from our lowest moments to the heights. And, yes, we go from light to darkness and from exultation to despair, too. At the end of the day, it’s the highs and the lows, the mystery and the discovery, that make us who we are.

This week has been one of those “cradle-to-grave” weeks that rabbi’s sometimes have, one of those weeks that take you on an emotional roller coaster and remind you, as the song title goes, “Life is a Highway.” (Tom Chochrane, 1991). At the beginning of the week, I had the privilege to officiate at a beautiful garden wedding. The next day, I witnessed the conversion of a newly adopted baby to Judaism, and this Shabbat our community will welcome her and hear the Hebrew name by which she will be known each time she is called to the Torah and at sacred rites of passage. Throughout the week, I also worked with two congregants in preparing for memorial services for their loved ones and on Wednesday I led an afternoon service for a man marking the 10th anniversary of his mother’s passing when she was 90 years old. Yes, life is a highway, and we’d best treasure every moment on this sacred journey from cradle to grave.

The Torah, in its most expansive sense, tells the story of the Jewish people from the very beginning of time to the end of days. The Five Books of Moses that constitute the Torah scrolls themselves conclude just before the Israelites enter the land that Adonai had promised to bequeath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendents, i.e. us. The books of the prophets, beginning with the book of Joshua, take us from the conquest of the land of Canaan to the establishment of the monarchy and the division of the territory into two kingdoms and ultimately to exile. The Oral Torah, the books of law and lore that were the brainchild of the rabbis in the early centuries of the first millenia teach us how to navigate the journey until the time when the Messiah will come and the Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem. Throughout the journey, the Land of Israel has been the destination, but to focus on the destination is to miss the real point of the Torah, which is that life itself is a sacred journey — one with twists and turns, one leading to where, we do not know for sure, but one that brings us closer to God and forges us into the human being that God wanted each of us to become.

This point is driven home in the opening verses of the second half of this week’s double Torah portion, Mattot-Mas’ei (Tribes-Journeys). Parashat Mas’ei begins: These were the journeys of the Israelites who started out from Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moses and Aaron. (Numbers 33:1) What follows is a mostly dry list of 20 place names where the Israelites stopped on their 40-year march from Egypt toward Canaan. 

At the steppes of Moab, on the east bank of the Jordan River, Moses records these place names knowing full well that he will not be among the Israelites who will enter the land that he just spent 40 years leading them to. Why would he do this? 

One reason is to remind the Israelites how faithful and resilient they are. God led them blindly on this trek. They had no idea what was around the corner or, for that matter, where they were going. The ones who lacked faith didn’t complete the journey. Those who did are invited to look back and to recall all they had endured. If they were focused only on the future, they would forget how great they are. They would forget how they had grown from a motley crew of slaves to a nation bound by a covenant with God. When we forget that life is really about the journey, we fail to internalize our own sense of greatness.

But another reason why Moses recorded the place names was to remind the people of all that God had done for them during their journey, miracles great and small. Even though God became incensed with them on more than one occasion, God never gave up on them. As the Israelites prepare for their greatest adventure — conquering and entering the land — they must recall how God has always been there for them and will be there for them now. 

Throughout the journey of our lives, we experience all kinds of things that show us what we are capable of and how much we are loved by God and those around us. At each step of the way, we grow stronger, we learn. We emerge from our darkest moments into the light, from our lowest moments to the heights. And, yes, we go from light to darkness and from exultation to despair, too. At the end of the day, it’s the highs and the lows, the mystery and the discovery, that make us who we are.

When we come together at the end of someone’s life, we remember where they have been so we can celebrate who they eventually became. We celebrate their journey along life’s highway. If we were lucky, we were on that journey with them. 

And having traveled much of life’s highway ourselves, how can we not be excited about welcoming new life into the world? While we know the world can be a cruel place and the highway isn’t always well maintained, we also know that this new life has the potential to change the world, to repair the highway. We pray that this new life will fall gently from the high places when it will inevitably fall. We pray that this new life will rise to great heights and from there see what is possible. We pray that new life will experience awe, as did our ancestors on their journey through the wilderness, and we pray that life will present them with an unfolding bouquet of discovery. 

When we come together at the end of someone’s life, we remember where they have been so we can celebrate who they eventually became. We celebrate their journey along life’s highway. If we were lucky, we were on that journey with them. 

And having traveled much of life’s highway ourselves, how can we not be excited about welcoming new life into the world? While we know the world can be a cruel place and the highway isn’t always well maintained, we also know that this new life has the potential to change the world, to repair the highway. We pray that this new life will fall gently from the high places when it will inevitably fall. We pray that this new life will rise to great heights and from there see what is possible. We pray that new life will experience awe, as did our ancestors on their journey through the wilderness, and we pray that life will present them with an unfolding bouquet of discovery. 

Extremism in the Defense of the Holy: Vice or Virtue?

Parashat Pinchas / פרשת פינחס

Torah Portion: Numbers 25:10 – 30:1

(Adapted from an earlier post in July 2014.)

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Pinchas, is disturbing on many levels as it touches on nerves frayed by recent events in Israel. Last week, we read that Pinchas, son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron, the high priest, ruthlessly kills Zimri, an Israelite of the tribe of Simeon, and Cozbi, a Midianite woman, when he sees them pass before Moses and enter a tent ostensibly to engage in sexual relations. A casual read of this incident reveals Pinchas acting on his own on behalf of God. If this is the case, how do we reconcile our love for Torah with our contemporary abhorrence for murder in the name of a higher cause? Is our tradition condoning vigilante justice?

First, some context: Just prior to that aforementioned event, Israelite men had en masse been “profaning themselves by whoring with the Moabite women, who invited the people to the sacrifices for their god. The people partook of them and worshiped that god” (Numbers 25:1-2). Incensed that Israel was straying after a foreign god, God instructed Moses to “Take all the ringleaders and have them publicly impaled before the Lord, so that the Lord’s wrath may turn away from Israel” (25:4). It was just after Moses issued God’s command to Israel’s officials from the opening of the Tent of Meeting that Zimri, in the sight of all, brings Cozbi over to his companions en route to a marital tent.[1]

At the moment that Pinchas rushes after Zimri and Cozbi and runs them through with a spear that a plague, which had taken the lives of twenty-four thousand people, ceased. God instantly rewards Pinchas (25:10-13):

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Pinchas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Israelite people in My passion. Say, therefore, ‘I grant him My pact of friendship. It shall be for him and his descendants after him a pact of priesthood for all time, because he took impassioned action for his God, thus making expiation for the Israelites.'”

In other words, God establishes a unique pact with Pinchas and his descendents, a brit shalom, a covenant of peace or friendship, and guarantees the priesthood of Pinchas and his line for all time.

What? Pinchas murders two people in cold blood without having been instructed to do so by Moses and now he’s a hero? How could God possibly have made a brit shalom with someone who acted so violently? Why would God have also ensured the perpetuity of the priestly line from Pinchas? To my eyes, what Pinchas did was just plain wrong. What if others followed suit and resorted to vigilante justice because they felt it was the right thing to do? Could there be peace then? It seems to me that a harsh rebuke, at the very least, is in order.

While it is the case that most commentators have seen in Pinchas a model of fidelity to God and willingness to act when others wouldn’t and, thus, worthy of God’s praise[2], others have been more critical of Pinchas and have offered interpretations of the Torah that suggest that God’s intentions are more complicated than simply rewarding Pinchas for a job well done. For example, in the 3rd century C.E. Rav Abba, aka “Rav” in the Talmud, condemns Pinchas for failing to follow Moses’ instruction (Fields, p. 76):

He holds that Pinchas sees what Zimri and Cozbi are doing and says to Moses, “Did you not teach our people when you came down from Mount Sinai that any Israelite who has sex with a non-Israelite may be put to death by zealots?” Moses, says Rav, listens to Pinchas and responds, “Let God who gave the advice execute the advice.”

According to Rav, Pinchas may have acted within the law, but that he should have heeded Moses’ instruction and trusted that God would, indeed, execute judgment in God’s own way.[3]

That the tradition has not always viewed Pinchas favorably is further supported by the insights of Rabbi Jack Reimer, who shows that the brit shalom was more a necessity for Pinchas’ own protection than a divine reward for exemplary behavior. In his essay My Covenant of Peace, Rabbi Reimer writes[4]:

…Abravanel says that God had to promise Pinchas peace in the sense of protection because the relatives of the one whom he had killed would be out to get him. The inference of Abravanel’s comment is that violence only leads to counter‑violence, that when a man takes the law into his own hands he only starts a chain reaction of revenge that goes on without end.

The Talmud offers a different explanation of what “My covenant of peace” means. It says that Pinchas needed protection, not so much from the relatives of the person he had killed, but from Moses, and Aaron, and the Sanhedrin. They were the ones who wanted to punish him and disqualify him from the priesthood for he had taken the law into his own hands. If God had not intervened to protect him they would have punished him for murder, or at the least, taken away his priesthood for taking the law into his own hands. This is a bold midrash for it changes the whole character of the biblical story. For the midrash Pinchas is not a hero but a criminal for if every man were to take the law into his own hands society could not stand.

The third explanation of what “My covenant of peace” means comes from the Netsiv, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin. According to his commentary, God had to bless Pinchas with the covenant of peace so that he would be protected, not only from the relatives of the one he killed, and not only from the courts, but from himself. For when a man has killed, whatever the reason the act of killing inevitably has an effect upon his soul. There is the danger that he may used to it and become casual about it, and there is the danger that his conscience may drive him mad with guilt. This is why God had to promise him “My Covenant of peace.” God had to promise to help him recover from the damage to his own soul that the murder had done. What the Netsiv is suggesting is that violence not only harms the victim and society but also the soul of the one who does. It makes him less stable, less sensitive and less human.

Against this argument by Rabbi Reimer, my friend Rabbi Gideon Estes shares a traditional view that Pinchas was not a vigilante, but rather a person of authority among the Israelites who was carrying out God’s earlier command conveyed by Moses to impale all the Israelites who had gone astray. Furthermore, Rabbi Estes explains that the “tent” into which Zimri and Cozbi entered was the Tent of Meeting, not a private abode, making their sin all the more heinous and deserving of Pinchas’ extreme response.[5] Rabbi Estes, thus, suggests that Pinchas’ action was understandable and even justifiable.

I believe as contemporary Jews we must hold both interpretations of this story to be True. On one hand, we have a story told in hyperbole about the responsibilities of Jews to perform mitzvot and to intercede when we see sins being committed. On the other hand, though, we have a story of zealotry gone tragically awry, a story in which one man’s action is roundly criticized. Pinchas’ act, like all acts of violence, merely begets further violence. It instills anger and pain in the families of the ones he kills and in the wider community and also compromises his own soul. Both stories are True.

It is my hope that as we read Parashat Pinchas this week we are able to see both sides of the story. Pinchas’ extremism in the defense of God’s word may be no vice from one perspective, but we mustn’t overlook the horror of his action, either. The lesson, I believe, is that as devotees to any ideal we must check ourselves and ensure that our actions truly serve the cause of peace. May this lesson sink into the hearts of all those engaged in violence around the world.

[1] Jacob Milgron, The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1990), 215.

[2] See Harvey Fields, A Torah Commentary for Our Time: Volume 3, Numbers and Deuteronomy (New York: UAHC Press, 1993), 77-78. Fields points to Samuel, head of the academy in Nahardea, Moses Maimonides, and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch as staunch defendants of Pinchas and God’s response.

[3] Ibid., p. 77.

[4] http://www.americanrabbi.com/my-covenant-of-peace-by-jack-reimer/ Accessed by subscription, 7/10/2014.

[5] Conversation held on 7/9/2014.

How beautiful are your tents?

Parashat Balak 5781 / פרשת בָּלָק
Torah Portion: Numbers 22:2-25:9 

Emblazoned above the aron kodesh (holy ark) in our synagogue’s sanctuary are the Hebrew words Mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mishk’notecha Yisra’el. “How beautiful are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Yisrael” (Numbers 24:5.) 

These are the words of Balaam, a prophet hired by the king of the Moabites to curse the Israelites so that Israel would fall to them in battle. As Balaam had informed his employer repeatedly, though, he could only utter the words that God placed in his mouth, and God would only bestow blessings upon Israel. Thus, after several failed attempts to curse Israel, Balaam comes out with a five-verse ode to Israel beginning with the verse above and ending with “Blessed are they who bless you. Cursed are they who curse you” (Numbers 24:9).

We begin our morning service with the opening line of Balaam’s ode as a way of welcoming worshippers into our sacred space. Implicit in this welcome is the idea that it is the worshippers themselves who make our “tent” beautiful. In addition, it is the worshippers who transform this “tent” into a dwelling place for the Divine. A famous Chassidic teaching says that God dwells wherever we let God in. It follows, therefore, that our sanctuary becomes a container for the Divine Presence only when it is full of people who are seeking God. On its own, our synagogue is architecturally very appealing. It becomes “tov” or truly beautiful when it is full of people.

I believe our synagogue is truly beautiful but that it can become even more beautiful as we welcome and include more individuals and families who are seeking a spiritual home. We can become more welcoming and inclusive the more we create a space where people can be their full, authentic selves. We become more beautiful when we declare publicly and unambiguously that we offer a space where all persons feel safe and validated. Just as Balaam declared loudly and clearly that Israel is a Godly community, so too must we let it be known that we are a Godly community that values people for being their full, authentic selves.

What do I mean when I talk about valuing people for their full, authentic selves? To use the lingo of LGBT Pride Month, it means letting people be “out” in our midst and embracing them for who they are. 

Balaam was not allowed to be his authentic self. As a prophet, he was tuned into the voice of God. Ultimately, Balak, the Moabite king, sent him packing and without pay because he could not become something he was not, which was an enemy of Israel. Balaam tried three times to curse Israel. After all, he accepted a job and he wanted to get paid. In the end, he was told he doesn’t belong in Midian.

Balaam was not the only one in the story who couldn’t be his authentic self. His donkey, upon which he rode from his home of Petor on the Euphrates, also was oppressed for being himself. He, like Balaam, was tuned into the presence of the Divine. God sent an angel to make Balaam’s journey to Midian difficult, so the angel stood in front of the donkey and caused him to veer into a field. Balaam hit the donkey. Then the angel stood in front of the donkey and caused him to bump into a wall, crushing Balaam’s foot. Balaam hit the donkey. Then the angel appeared in front of the donkey in a narrow alley and all the donkey could do was lie down in front of the angel. Balaam hit the donkey. And then Balaam saw what the donkey had seen the whole time — an angel wielding a sword. He had been punishing the donkey because the donkey was responding to the Divine Presence, just as Balaam knew that he, too, would respond to the Divine Presence. And yet, Balaam showed no mercy on his poor donkey.

We are all created in God’s image, but God’s image manifests itself differently in each of us. Some of us are Balaam, some of us are the donkey, but we all respond to the voice of God within each of us in unique ways. It is incumbent upon us to embrace the Balaams and the donkeys, not to beat them, not to send them packing, to let them know we welcome them.

This is the last week of LGBT Pride Month, also known as Gay Pride Month, a month that challenges us and all faith communities to reflect on how truly beautiful we are — how welcoming, inclusive, Godly we are. Pride Month challenges us to reflect on how well we welcome and embrace LGBT persons. Parenthetically, it should also challenge us to consider how we welcome and embrace all persons who historically have felt marginalized by society — persons of color, persons with disabilities, persons experiencing poverty, hunger and homelessness.

Now, I do not know the sexual orientation or gender identity of every adult and child who is a member of my congregatoin, but I do know that many of us are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins, children or dear friends of people who identify as LGBT. I would like to believe that all of our LGBT friends, family members and congregants do, in fact, feel safe, welcomed, included and fully embraced.

It’s one thing to believe, even to know, that all who are part of our community feel safe and fully embraced, but how is our community perceived by people who are not yet members who, for whatever reasons, aren’t so sure they will feel safe, welcomed, included and fully embraced by our community? What about those people who have been traumatized by “organized religion” either at home, in their places of worship, or in their communities? Do we do a good job of signaling to them that they belong in our community? In what ways do we express our warmth and inclusivity well before they dare cross our threshold? What could we be doing better in our signaling? These are not just rhetorical questions. They are real questions that all of us must be asking ourselves if we are to become the version of ourselves that we aspire to be. To be sure, they are questions we should ask ourselves when it comes to all kinds of people who could enrich our community through their presence and unique contributions.

On this, the final Shabbat of Pride Month, I want to invite us to consider these questions. As we read the words “How beautiful are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel!” may we find the courage to ask how we can make this tent, this dwelling place for God’s presence, an even more welcoming space for LGBT people and, indeed, all who are searching for a spiritual home.

My Children, My Well

Parashat Chukat 5781 / פרשת חֻקַּת
Torah Portion: Numbers 19:1-22:1

One of the greatest joys in my life is fatherhood. Not only because I take pleasure in being with my children. Not only because I delight in watching them grow into compassionate adults. Not only because I am proud of their achievements. But also because my children have helped me be present in the world. Because they’ve helped me be a more compassionate person. Because they’ve inspired me to achieve. Because they’ve taught me. They are for me a wellspring of Torah.

In the famous rabbinic collection of pithy aphorisms known as Pirkei Avot (6:6), we read that “Torah is acquired through 48 things.” Among these “things” through which we acquire Torah are joy, an understanding heart, and feeling loved, but also “a minimum of sleep,” “critical give and take with others,” “sharing in the bearing of a burden with another,” and humility. These and all the other things are integral to my life as a parent.

Not all of these things are easy and fun, of course. What parent hasn’t experienced strings of sleepless nights when their children are babies? What parent hasn’t engaged in lively exchanges, sometimes heated and angry, with their children. And what parent hasn’t needed a partner or a village to share the burden of parenting some of the time, if not always. Who hasn’t felt totally humbled by their children? All these things AND joy and love and an understanding heart are part and parcel of fatherhood for me.

Even the mundane and aggravating parts of fatherhood are worthwhile. There’s laundry and food preparation and schlepping and kvetching and all those other things that are part of living in the world with growing beings underfoot. But we find Torah in these parts of parenting, too, if we choose to see them that way. A friend once said to me, “We love what we put work into.” Nothing could be truer than loving our children.

As the Israelites made their way through the wilderness, they encountered boredom, hunger, thirst, rebelliousness, warfare, death, lack of faith and quite often the wrath of God. And yet we learn that it was through these experiences over 40 years that the Israelites acquired Torah for themselves. In the first year, Moses acquired Torah directly from God, but it took another 40 years for Israel to really ingest and absorb Torah for themselves. 

Once, shortly after Miriam died (Num. 20:1) , the wells that had sustained Israel throughout their journey only because of Miriam’s merit — the Sages teach us — dried up. These wells, according to the great hassidic master Rabbi Yehudah Leib of Ger, otherwise known as the Sefat Emet, symbolize the Oral Torah, that Torah which is acquired through the stream of life as we experience all of these 48 things of which Pirkei Avot speaks. And so, you can imagine, how parched our ancestors became in those days following Miriam’s death, how thirsty for Torah they were.

But then something wonderful happened. First, God brought forth water from a rock (20:11). And then God led Israel to a place called Be’er (21:16), which means “Well.” And the Torah says, God brought them to that place with a well, “which is the well where the LORD said to Moses, “Assemble the people that I may give them water.” You see, God didn’t abandon the Israelites. They still had water. They still drank in from the source of Torah. But they also had to work to dig the well and make the waters flow.

The Torah continues (21:17-18), “Israel sang this song: Spring up, O well—sing to it—The well which the chieftains dug, Which the nobles of the people started with maces, with their own staffs.” In the midst of their difficult journey, in the midst of a series of unfortunate events, Israel sang! They sang to the well that fed their bodies and their souls.

Notice that they didn’t sing to God, and they didn’t sing because they experienced a miracle. They sang because they worked to dig that well in Be’er, and their work was good. With their own hands, they made the waters flow and that water would sustain their bodies. In the same vein, through their own encounters with whatever life put in front of them, they learned the Torah that sustained their souls.

So here we are on the Shabbat of Father’s Day weekend. As I pause to think about my journey of fatherhood, I give thanks to God for the many gifts and blessings that have graced my life. I, too, want to sing a song to the children I have co-parented with my own two hands and who have, in turn, taught me Torah, for Jacob and Katie are the well I have dug and their lives are the water that nourishes my soul. And I am grateful.

Psalms 128

(1) A song of ascents. Happy are all who fear the LORD, who follow His ways. (2) You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors; you shall be happy and you shall prosper. (3) Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons, like olive saplings around your table. (4) So shall the man who fears the LORD be blessed. (5) May the LORD bless you from Zion; may you share the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life, (6) and live to see your children’s children. May all be well with Israel!