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Matot - Masei ~ July 17, 2020

Tucked within the opening words of the morning prayers in the modern era siddurim, prayer books of the Conservative movement is a kavanah, words of intent, that are overlooked, simply by its placement. To be honest with you, the words “I hereby accept the obligation of fulfilling the Creator’s mitzvah as written in the Torah: love your neighbor as yourself,” "v'ahavta l're'-acha ka-mocha," should not be necessary to recite. It is a value of Jewish tradition, that as the great sage Hillel once said, is the essence of the meaning of the whole Torah, the rest is commentary. Yet, the editors of the both Sim Shalom and Lev Shalem, found it necessary and appropriate to establish this kavanah, in our morning ritual, just after we put on our tallit in the morning. As we don our tallit, reflective of our love of G-d and our commitment to the mitzvot, we need to be reminded of how to fulfill both that love and that commitment.

The words of the kavanah, specifically point out that this is a mitzvah of the Borei, of the Creator of the world. If in the morning service we are reflecting the renewal of the world each morning, and G-d’s renewed creation in our personal lives, then we must renew our commitment each morning to that new creation. While it may simply seem quite obvious in our lives to live this value, some of the choices we make each day, require us to be mindful of not only what it means, but how to fulfill it. It is that same word “v’ahavta” that later on in our prayers, we will reflect upon as we recite the words of the Shema, that will remind us of our love of G-d and thus the value of the mitzvah to love of our fellow human beings. May I suggest that the word in Hebrew word “kamo-cha,” may have a double entendre, reflecting both the respect and love for oneself, and with a capital first letter, reflecting that we love our fellow human being as we love You, referring to G-d.

Our Torah reading for this Shabbat shares with us such a choice. Moshe has been told by G-d that the end of his life is approaching. He has fulfilled his role as the leader of the Israelite nation. However, he has one more important task to fulfill. For one last time, he will direct the Israelite nation in battle to avenge the Midianites, whose actions brought plague and death upon the encampment. The purpose of this holy war was to “redeem G-d’s name” that was desecrated by the immoral acts that the Midianites enticed and participated in with the Israelites. Since following the battle, Moshe’s life would come to an end, rabbinic tradition teaches that the Israelites were hesitant to go into battle. If you love your neighbor, then how could one take the next step, knowing their actions would result in Moses’ ultimate death! Then again, if they did not follow his lead, would they be stating that they no longer had faith in Moshe and or that they did were still engrossed with the Midianite idol worship and licentious ways?

Moshe recognizes the reluctance of the Israelites. He too must be contemplating his own end of life. At the same time, he understands that if he loved his neighbor as himself, then the hesitancy and reluctance, might bring a change of heart to the people and they might return to their old ways. That would again bring down G-d’s wrath upon the people and perhaps more than having to experience a second wave of a pandemic, G-d might choose to annihilate the entire nation, in the same war He had instructed them to bring an end to the Midianites. So, Moshe “dispatches them on the campaign” understanding what was right; that was not only how he lived his life but how he valued life. As his life was coming to its end he humbly insured his place in history, without knowing he was doing it, by fulfilling the mitzvah, of loving oneself by doing what was responsible in that love.

Moshe’s life and love of the people, protecting them from Pharaoh, from themselves, and from G-d and His wrath, was the essence of who Moses was not only as a leader, but as a human being.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi K

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782