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I’ve always been bothered by the end of the movie Titanic when only Rose, and not Jack, climbs on to the door in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean after the ship goes down. Despite the decades-long debates about this scene, the idea of clinging for survival is very relevant to Judaism, but in our case it's the survival of faith.
Most families have at least one great storyteller in their ranks. You know, the person who holds court on the holidays, entertaining and regaling others. That person. For me, it was my Poppa Jake. The twinkle in his eye. The emotion he imparted. The way his voice changed pitch. It didn’t matter if he was spinning out a nonsense tale or describing one of his travels, he held our rapt attention. Perhaps he’s the reason that I have always been fascinated by stories.
As we enter the last book of the Torah, we see Moses reminding the Israelites to be there for each other through this change and always. What a perfect analogy as we rediscover what it means to be there for each other as a community.
This Shabbat marks the start of the month of Av, within which sit two remarkably different observances. The first is Tisha B’Av, or the 9th of Av (starting Saturday night, July 17th), during which we mourn the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and a host of other calamities that occurred on the same day. The second is Tu B’Av (July 24th), which is often called the Jewish Valentine’s Day.
For better or worse, the scroll we call the Torah isn’t updated. We can’t change the text because, as the word of God, the story is static and unchanging. However, this week's Torah portion is an example of why we have rabbinic scholars who work to understand its intent so we can apply it to our lives today.
After college, I lived in New Mexico for a few years. Two friends were from “The Land of Enchantment” and on previous visits I had fallen in love with the high desert terrain, rugged beauty, and the “Three Nations” (Indian, Chicano and Gringo as they were called in those days; clearly the vocabulary has changed) whose stories together created a rich cultural milieu.
I think my attraction to the idea of starting and ending my days with a connection to the earth, to God, and to my body also offers some insight into my love of Judaism. Jewish living is structured around prayer - daily prayer - and that comes from our Torah portion this week, Pinchas.