This piece about the weekly Torah portion was originally written for the Detroit Jewish News on August 13, 2015.
The choices we make in life can be a blessing and have positive influence on our own lives, our family, community and the world. Or our choices can have negative consequences. Moses presents that choice to the Israelites:
See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced (Deuteronomy 11:26-28, JPS translation).
I find the last clause “whom you have not experienced” to seem redundant. Moses has said if you don’t follow God’s commandments you will be cursed. Why further emphasize to not follow other gods “whom you have not experienced?” Every word in the Torah has intention.
It is inevitable that when the Israelites enter Canaan without Moses they will have new experiences. The Torah continues with a repetitive emphasis to only pray to one God, God seems apprehensive about the Israelites leaving Moses, leaving what they have known for a new land.
The apprehension begins to subside, perhaps God or Moses recognize that there are only so many times that you can repeat yourself. Moses moves from telling Israel what not to do, to laying out a framework for the Israelites to experience Judaism without him. He explains how to live life with intention – including how we eat (kashrut), celebrate (Passover, remember your past as slaves and as strangers), and care for the earth (farming). These intentions are connected to communal past experiences, but the people will implement these practices in their own unique ways. Jewish practice will be rooted in tradition but evolve and grow with future generations.
It is the middle of August, and as a Hillel professional on campus at the University of Michigan, along with my Hillel colleagues across North America, we are preparing to welcome 100,000 Jewish freshmen on to campus. A staggering 85% of American Jews attend college (2013 Pew Research Center). It’s a time when parents have a lot to say to their new Wolverine, Spartan, or Warrior (insert mascot here). In these last few weeks of summer, parents often urgently impart their notions of the world to their children, these same Jewish students, like all American college students, have their own set of dreams, desires, and interests when preparing to leave for school.
Reeh is emphasizing the opportunity before the Israelites for their lives to be a blessing based on their choices. The parshah transitioned from Moses telling the Israelites what not to do, to offering a framework for experiences that would connect the Israelites to their past, and inform who they will become. Each August parents and their students are presented with this same transition.
I urge parents to share with your students why being Jewish is important to you. What are the practices or values of Jewish life that have meaning for you? How did they become important to you? Share with them the stories of how you figured out what is important to you (or how you’re still in the process of figuring it out).
Send your child off to college knowing why being Jewish is important to you. I think this will encourage your college student to make choices that will be a blessing.
Davey Rosen is the Associate Director at University of Michigan Hillel.
Three questions to consider at the Shabbat table:
Everyone makes mistakes; how can learning from our mistakes turn a curse into a blessing?
When you think about important Jewish moments in life, who are the people you think of?
Thinking about when your student returns home from school and hopes to share with you their new experiences, consider, when was a time in your life that you wish someone had listened to you with more openness?