Thursday, August 7, 2014

Vaetchanan and Pleading for Peace

For all his successes and triumphs, our hero Moses is denied setting foot on the Promised Land. Because he grew angry at the Israelites and hit a rock, God states that he will not be allowed to enter the land of Israel.

This week Moses begs God to change this decree: “I pleaded with the Lord… Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan…” (Deuteronomy 4:23-25)

The commentators are bothered that Moses pleads. Begging appears beneath him. His words seem undignified for a leader. They wonder as well how Moses can question God’s judgment. The medieval writer, Moses ibn Ezra, suggests that even in this instance, Moses, who the tradition calls “Moshe Rabbeinu—Moses, our Teacher,” is offering a lesson. And what is it that he teaches the people? It is a lesson about the supreme value of living in the land of Israel. It is as if to say, “Living in the land is worth pleading.”

The modern commentator, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, reads this passage differently. He suggests that Moses is not asking for forgiveness, but instead arguing that he did not even commit a wrong. The decree is therefore unjustified and should rightfully be annulled. What chutzpah! In the end Moses’ request is partially fulfilled. God responds to his plea and allows him to see the land from afar. Moses is allowed to glimpse the beauty of Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel.

I continue to wonder. For what is it appropriate to plead? For what can I beg God?

These weeks an answer begins to emerge. How about peace? Let my plea be heard! Let shalom be granted—even if but partially. Does such a plea appear undignified?

I continue to rely on the Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai.

Not the peace of a cease-fire
not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb,
but rather
as in the heart when the excitement is over
and you can talk only about a great weariness.
I know that I know how to kill,
that makes me an adult.
And my son plays with a toy gun that knows
how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.
A peace
without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,
without words, without
the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be
light, floating, like lazy white foam.
A little rest for the wounds –
who speaks of healing?
(And the howl of orphans is passed from generation
to the next, as in a relay race:
the baton never falls.)
Let it come
like wildflowers,
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace.

Please God. I plead. Vaetchnanan!

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