Friday, September 28, 2018

“New Tablets” and “Turning, Turning Still” - Creative Alternatives for the Torah and Ecclesiastes Readings for the Shabbat during Sukkot - September 28, 2018

New Tablets - September 27, 2018

Eternal One,

We are ready to carve for You two new tablets of stone. 

We have, sadly, shattered the ones from the past

With our lack of empathy

With our denial of human pain

With our thirst for power

With our inability to take responsibility for our actions

With our sowing of hatred and anger

With our cruelty 

With our self-centeredness

With our forgetfulness

With our inability to forgive. 

We come to You now with new, blank tablets that await the

Guidance of Your hand to move our hearts. 

We present these tablets to You

From wherever we are now standing,  

for You are truly with us everywhere.

It is up to us to open our eyes 

To recognize and acknowledge Your enduring presence. 

Eternal God, write anew upon these tablets 

and upon our hearts















We will bear these tablets with us

As we continue on our way

Towards a new promised land

Where we will build

A world of true peace. 

Turning, Turning Still - September 27, 2018

To everything there is a season, and a time for every attitude under heaven. 

There is a time to be arrogant, and a time to be humble. 

A time to be combative, and a time to be cooperative. 

A time to be accusatory, and a time to be truthful. 

A time to be dismissive, and a time to be a thoughtful listener. 

A time to be intimidating, and a time to be considerate.  

A time to be infuriated, and a time to be calm. 

A time to be self-righteous, and a time to be just. 

A time to be hateful, and a time to be loving. 

A time to be disappointed, and a time to be encouraged.

A time to be fearful, and a time to be brave. 

A time to be divisive, and a time to seek unity 

In any way possible. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

“The Chain” (A Story for Sukkot - and for preserving our legacies) - September 22, 2018

“Why do we always make a paper chain to decorate our Sukkah?” 
    Sarah was an inquisitive and precocious nine years old.  She was always drawing, painting, questioning, and singing.   The arts were her best mode of expression.   She liked soccer, too.  And baseball.   Somehow, though, as Sukkot was coming once again, she was thinking about how to make this year’s paper chain for the Sukkah even longer than last year.  
    She always joined in on the fun. In her small Temple, even when there were only 20 students in her Religious School, there was a friendly competition between one group of children and another.   Once they all had completed their work of carefully curling the paper segments and stapling or taping them together, admiring their miraculous work, they would join their separate chains together.   What had been a series of long chains became one mega-mega chain.   Before they attached it to the Sukkah, they extended it to its fullest length.   The rabbi and some of the parents would stand by, snapping pictures of the children brimming with pride at their work.   
    Sarah asked her parents why they thought this “paper-chain Sukkah decoration” was so popular.   They told her that they remembered doing this themselves “back in the day.”   It was fun, and no one had told them why they did the activity, other than that it was easy to prepare, it took time, and it occupied the students for a while.  And, of course, the result was always impressive. 
     So Sarah decided to ask the rabbi what the paper chain meant. 
     The day came for putting up the Sukkah and making decorations. She found the rabbi in his office before the program began, preparing for the service in the Sukkah later that afternoon.   
      “Rabbi, we always make paper chains to put on the Sukkah.  Why do we do it?   I know that it adds some color, and that it is a fun thing to do.  There has to be some other reason to make the chain.”  
       The rabbi had never been asked the question before.  He had, for many years, in several different congregations, watched the students in the Temple Religious School create construction paper-strip chains of 30 feet, 50 feet, 70 feet.  He realized that he hadn’t thought about a deeper purpose...that is, not until now.
      “Sarah, that is an excellent question.  No one has ever put that question to me.  I suppose it is because it is easy to set up and you all have so much fun doing it.   You are so excited when you are finished, and you hang the chain on the Sukkah with incredible enthusiasm!   You know, the chain doesn’t always make it through the whole week of Sukkot, due to wind and rain.   It always looks great, though, on the first day.”
    “So here is what I think.  Do you you remember, Sarah, when we took out the miniature Torah and unrolled it last year during our school assembly before Simchat Torah?”  
     “Yes, I do!” Sarah said. “You pointed out some of the special sections on the scroll, like the Shema, the special blessing of the priests, the Ten Commandments, the song the Israelites sang after crossing the sea, the dream of Jacob, and the story of creation.  That was great.  So what does that have to do with a paper chain?”
     “Sarah, sometimes I talk at services when a boy or girl becomes Bar or Bat Mitzvah about a chain of the Jewish people and our tradition,” the rabbi explained.”  Each link in the paper chain can represent a generation in your family history, or maybe special people that you recall. The chain can signify your own personal story going back for centuries.   It’s the same when we open up the Torah.  We usually just read a little bit of the Torah every week.  When we open up the Torah on Simchat Torah, and see it all at once, we realize that we are part of an amazing tale of teaching, learning and survival. It is like the paper chain, demonstrating every point in a ever-growing story.  The blessing we say on holidays and at special times thanks God for keeping us alive, for sustaining, and bringing us to special times.  Each time we say that blessing, it’s like a link in the chain.   Do you have anyone special that you think about from your family history, Sarah, someone whom you never met but about whom you have heard stories?” 
      “Rabbi, I heard that my great-grandmother Surah - I was named for her - came to this country all alone on a boat nearly 100 years ago.  She was only 15.  She did have an aunt and uncle waiting for her when she arrived, but I can’t imagine how she made that trip.  She must have been so brave.   The rest of her family - two sisters, a brother, and her parents - joined her, too.  It is because of her that we are here.    You know, we even have a photo of her with her son and daughter-in-law - my grandparents - and her oldest grandchild - my mother - at the synagogue Sukkah.”  
    “See, Sarah, that photo you just described to me is also one link in the chain of your family story and in our ever-unfolding Jewish history.   Our stories make each of us special.   So, are you ready to make a new chain this year?”
    “Yes, rabbi, am I ever!”  Sarah exclaimed.  
   She joined the other children and got to work on making the longest paper-chain Sukkah decoration ever created.    
     This time, she added something new.  She took one paper strip, found the nearest marker, and wrote the name “Surah.”   
     And she said to herself, “I am still here, great-grandma.  This one is for you.”  

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Letting Go - For the Day after Yom Kippur 09202018 (Board meeting D’var Torah)

Letting Go - For the Day after Yom Kippur 09202018 

(Board meeting D’var Torah)

God of forgiveness,

Compassionate One, 

During this time following our day of atonement,

When we confess our sins before You and with each other,

Help us to continue to let go 

To apologize

To forgive

To relinquish grudges

To heal past hurts 

To reach out with a generous heart 

To make peace when possible

To do all that we are able 

to sustain a sense of equilibrium 

In our relationships.  

When we encounter people 

who are insistent on strengthening their hold

On hard feelings,

Who are unwilling to achieve even a modicum of respect,

Or to approach others with any measure of cordiality,

Who refuse to accept even the most sincere and appropriate apology, 

Do not let us sink into despair. 

Guide us to find it in our souls 

To approach everyone with equal consideration and empathy

But to realize 

That, once we have let go of past disappointments,

Once we have asked for forgiveness

And once we have demonstrated support and respect 

for those with whom we have struggled to relate, 

We will have taken necessary steps 

Towards healing and repair. 

And when our reaching out is not answered in kind

Teach us to be at peace with ourselves

To continue to act with decency

And to persist in the hope

That love and peace 

Might yet come again 

One day.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Look for the Good - Sermon - Kol Nidrei/Yom Kippur Evening - September 18, 2018

    Someone called me out.

   Well, I have to admit, she called me out rather indirectly. 

     But I felt like she was talking to ME. 

She said that she had just learned that the Latin word for “left” is “sinister.”  She thought that was so amusing that she put it on Facebook.  It was her way of declaring, once and for all, that people on the left politically are sinister - perhaps even evil.

   I have known that “sinister” means “left” since I first studied Latin during my freshman year of junior high school half-a-century ago.   The Latin word for “right,” by the way, is “dexter,” which is the root for words like “dexterity,” which means “skillful.” 

   The “new meaning” of those words in English bothered me then, and I still find it disturbing how these words for left and right gained their connotations. 

    You see, I am a member of the 10 percent cohort of the human community that is left-handed.   

    My parents told me the usual story. When I was very young, they tried to put my spoon in my right hand.  Every time they did, I automatically moved it to my left hand.   My fate was sealed. 

    In this right-handed world, I learned to bat right-handed in baseball, and when I played kickball, I used my right foot.  When I play my right-handed guitar, my left hand forms the chords, and my right hand takes care of the strumming.   

    But try going into a school classroom and finding no left-handed desks.  

   Or try having your cursive handwriting on the blackboard of your fourth grade classroom criticized because it was “straight up and down” instead of being slanted right, like a good right-hander should do. 

   I understand that in Catholic schools, in Jewish Talmud Torah schools, and even in some public schools, the insistent left-hander trying to write with his or her correct and dominant hand often received a strong, stinging slap with a ruler, and a stern command to place the writing implement in the other and correct hand. 

     I tried to tell my Facebook acquaintance that I was upset at her reference because the word “sinister” likely took on its connotation of “evil” or “suspicious” because there are so few left-handers in the world.   It was the fear of someone who is different and OTHER that led people throughout the last 5000 years of human history to see left-handedness in a negative light.  She wouldn’t buy it. She replied that she was not talking about being a lefthander or righthander.  She had seen something she considered funny, coincidental, and, in her mind, true, in relation to political ideology. 

   After that response, I still felt called out, and not because of the tendency of my own perspectives to be left of what we might consider to be the current ideological center.  

  For her, left is “sinister,” negative, evil and wrong, and there was no question in my mind that she meant her original comment in a denigrating way.   

      From our daily experiences, we know that life is a balance.   Left-handers offer an ever-present reminder that there is diversity which is intrinsic to our world and even to our actions.    If we ignore these differences, we may fail to understand who we truly are.  There is no OTHER.  There is just us. 

       Recognizing who we truly are includes accepting the struggle for living a moral life in which we are engaged every day.  

      Every Yom Kippur, we take a hard look at how we manage the balance inside ourselves between what Judaism calls the good inclination, YETZER TOV, and the evil inclination, YETZER HARA.  At our best, we choose goodness.   When we feel most conflicted inside, it may be that the ambition, desire for power, and lack of consideration, which are characteristic of the evil inclination, can all be bridled enough by the good inclination to lead to positive action.   

    Sometimes, we can’t make that happen. 

     And that is why Yom Kippur is important.   This day is a humanizing experience that can be both challenging and uplifting.   This is a day when there is no other.  There is just us. 

    We have just completed the confessional prayers in our Kol Nidrei service.  This recitation of what we have done wrong reverberates in our ears and in our souls from one year to the next.    

     MISHKAN HANEFESH replaces the older translation,  “for the sin we have sinned against you” with two different phrases: “The ways we have wronged You” and “the harm we have caused in Your world.”   That language introduces a recounting of moral missteps, including careless speech, hardening our hearts, lies, deceit, and gossip.  

   Besides the familiar confessional prayers, MISHKAN HANEFESH provides what I would call an “antidote” reading.   After we declare all of the actions that human beings as a whole might not get right, we proclaim, “God our Creator and Guide, let us speak now of the healing acts by which we bring You into the world, the acts of repair that make You a living presence in our lives.”     

     In that new reading, we declare that we are able to counterbalance the ways we have wronged God and the harm we have caused in the world.  That additional prayer reminds us that Yom Kippur is a time when we can continue to direct ourselves towards the path of goodness, kindness, and decency.   

     This summer, I was directed to a book by psychologist M. Scott Peck.  He was most well known for his popular work, THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED.  An article about moral decision-making led me to read Peck’s book, PEOPLE OF THE LIE:  THE HOPE FOR HEALING HUMAN EVIL, which was published in 1983.   What was most important for me about this book was Peck’s description of personal behaviors which he considered to be dangerous for human relationships. We have, no doubt, witnessed living examples of his portrayal of people’s possible destructive actions.   He recommended that we avoid those individuals who exhibit these traits: refusal to take responsibility for individual actions; destructive, scapegoating behavior, whether subtle or overt; excessive intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury; and a pronounced concern with a public image and self-image of respectability, which could lead to a denial of one’s hateful feelings and vengeful motives.  

   Peck noted that people who behave in this way do experience guilt, but they avoid and deny their feelings of guilt as much as they possibly can.  He explained, “The evil deny the suffering of their guilt - the painful awareness of their sin, inadequacy, and imperfection - by casting their pain onto others through projection and scapegoating. They themselves, may not suffer, but those around them do.  They cause suffering.  [Those who are] evil create for those under their dominion a miniature sick society.” 

   In the final chapter of his book, M. Scott Peck declared that only love and acceptance can counterbalance the evil within human behavior.  He said that “the path of love is a dynamic balance of opposites, a painful creative tension of uncertainties, a difficult tightrope between extreme but easier courses of action.  Consider the raising of a child.  To reject all of a child’s misbehavior is unloving.  To tolerate all of his or her misbehavior is unloving,  We must somehow be both tolerant and intolerant, accepting and demanding, strict and flexible.  An almost godlike compassion is required.” 

    That is a compassion that we might apply to others and to ourselves as we struggle to remain on a path of goodness.   Our Jewish tradition, our friends, our family members, and our teachers and mentors all give us guidance.   

    Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote his book THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF CHARACTER, published in 2003,  as an anthology of responses he had crafted to questions submitted to his column on   The first chapter of this book presented his new moral prescription of commandments.  This list resonates with the “healing and repair” reading in our prayerbook that provides a path to building goodness within ourselves.  Here are Telushkin’s Ten Commandments of character: 

  1. Know your weaknesses.
  2. When ethics and other values conflict, choose ethics. 
  3. Treat all people with kindness, and with the understanding that they, like you, are made “in God’s image.” 
  4. Be fair.
  5. Be courageous.
  6. Be honest.
  7. Be grateful.
  8. Practice self-control. 
  9. Exercise common sense. 
  10. Admit when you have done wrong, seek forgiveness, and don’t rationalize bad behavior.

   If we were to discuss these commandments, I would ask you which of them you believe to be the most difficult.   I am sure that, these days, there are those who would name “don’t rationalize bad behavior” as the hardest one to put into practice.   As I stated in a recent column in the local press, “rationalizing bad behavior is a personal pardon we give ourselves that relieves us of the responsibility to admit what we have done wrong and to apologize...but it is apology and forgiveness that, together, open the gates of healing in our relationships.”

    When we think about exemplars of good character, the people who would come to mind are those who visibly practice kindness, gratitude, self-control, courage, and honesty.  

   We have all, I am sure, been blessed in our lives with people who have taught us important moral lessons, sometimes in their own special way. 

   During the summer, Rhonda and I made a special trip to El Paso to see, on its first theater run, the documentary film,  “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” 

    In the Karol household, we would watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with our son Adam in his early years, as well as the faster-paced Sesame Street.   As a family, we once visited the amusement park in Ligonier, Pennsylvania that brought to life some of the characters from Fred Roger’s legendary show. 

   With a deliberate pace, and Fred Rogers’ unique brand of teaching and engaging his guests, this show made a far-reaching impact.  It offered children a feeling of acceptance for who they were.  The program tried to teach positive values for living and for interacting with parents and peers.   Fred Rogers dealt with intolerance by promoting understanding and openness.   He dealt with racism by presenting diversity in his cast and with his guests.   Only four months into his long run on television, Fred Rogers addressed the assassination of Robert Kennedy with a special episode that dealt directly with what happened and reassured children that their parents and others would provide for their safety.  

   Fred Rogers’ “truth to power” moment came when he faced the Senate subcommittee on communications when he heard of their plan to cut funding from public television.  Speaking to Senator John Pastore, the subcommittee chairman, Fred Rogers made his point succinctly and clearly: “This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, ‘You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.’ And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.”  His appeal was successful and the funds were restored for pubic television’s educational programming. 

     Fred Rogers taught this important lesson to parents and children about dealing with tragedy: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

     Finally, Fred Rogers offered this perspective about the essence of our humanity:  “When I say ‘it's you I like,’ I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”

    And so we struggle, every day, to stay on the side of decency, understanding, compassion, fairness and hope.   Both our left and our right have their reason for being.  Both good and evil can drive us to do the right thing when properly channeled. We can overcome the temptation to go astray by directing our passions towards godliness and divine teachings that can lead us to choose life.   We are people who are commanded not only to look for the helpers, but to be the helpers, and when we look for the good, may we continually discover the potential for good inside of each of us.   

   On the three festivals, we recite a special prayer for the earth, but we can also pray it for ourselves, for our own character, and for our souls, so that what we do each year will bring a bounty of love to the world.    

   Please repeat after me: 


    L’CHAYIM         V’LO L’MAVET.

    L’SOVA.            V’LO L’RAZON

For blessing and not for curse. For life and not death. 

For abundance, not want. 

And may God bless the good work of our hands and the good that we spread in this world that needs the best that we have to give.  So may we give to one another, to our neighbors, and to the greater human family.      

We are Arrogant...but People Can Change - Prayer interpretation of Tavo L’fanecha - Yom Kippur morning - September 19, 2018

     Last week, I was preparing to post online the melody I composed in 2011 for the prayer we are about to recite.  As I read it over in the prayerbook, something struck me about the translation and the Hebrew wording in Mishkan Hanefesh as opposed to the text in Gates of Repentance.   Here is what we read in Gates of Repentance:    “Our God, God of our mothers and fathers, grant that our prayers may reach You.  Do not be deaf to our pleas, for we are not so arrogant and stiffnecked as to say before you, Lord our God and God of all ages, we are perfect and have not sinned; rather do we confess:  we have gone astray.”  

     On page 296 in Mishkan Hanefesh, we will read the new translation of the prayer, which has a totally changed meaning because one word is gone.  In Hebrew, that word is SHE-AYN.  In English, the missing word is “NOT.”   We now declare that “we are arrogant and stubborn, claiming to be blameless and free of sin, but in truth we have stumbled and strayed.”  It is a stark admission. 

      So why did the word “NOT” disappear?  

     I contacted Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, the editor of Mishkan Hanefesh, to ask if he knew why the change was made.   He told me that Rabbi Larry Hoffman, one of the foremost scholars in the world on Jewish prayer, explained at one of the Machzor revision meetings  that he believes that the original prayer did not include the word NOT.   The first version of this prayer likely read,  “we are arrogant and stubborn.”  Hoffman believed, that, somewhere along the line in Jewish history, someone felt that, in keeping with a well-known Jewish superstition, we would tempt the evil eye by openly proclaiming that we humans are arrogant.  We might seal our fate and never be able to change. 

      The word NOT was added, and it has remained in most prayerbooks in order to remind us that we are capable of holding ourselves upon a higher moral ground, 

     This past Sunday, I attended the farewell event downtown for Bishop Oscar Cantu of the Roman Catholic diocese of Las Cruces. I was able to speak with him before the event began.  He spoke to me of the cloud over the church due to the sexual abuse crisis that continues to cause him great concern.   I told him that we in the Jewish community are in our season of repentance, and we both know that there have always been prominent people, and there still are, in the human community who have believed they are blameless, when they are actually guilty of wrongs that they were incapable of admitting and for which they felt no need to make amends. I told the Bishop that the Catholic Church can be a model of repentance at this time.   In his homily at the Vesper service, Bishop Cantu addressed this challenge to the church before the assembled crowd with extreme humility, noting that the truth must be found, and that the church must approach multiple cases of abuse based on transparency and accountability.  He knows that much work needs to be done to even begin to bring repair and healing to the brokenness that has affected many lives.   Bishop Cantu prayed for the well-being of the victims and for their healing.  His declaration was an important statement.  In the past, those guilty of wrongdoing were led by arrogance to claim they were without blame.    Now, the light of truth will hopefully lead to apology and atonement. 

      We human beings are always capable of making right what is wrong, of letting our past go in order to become someone new, at least in a small way.  

    I am currently participating in a discussion group with local clergy on Parker Palmer’s book, Healing the Heart of Democracy,  In the preface to the book, Palmer wrote of a Civil rights bus trip he took in the southern United States about 15 years ago.   He was sitting on the bus near Georgia Congressional Representative John Lewis, first known for his prominent leadership of the Civil Rights movement in 1960s.  Palmer recounted a story that he heard Lewis tell as they traveled the roads of the south.       

     In 1961, John Lewis and a friend were at a bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina, when several young white men attacked and beat them bloody with baseball bats. Lewis and his friend “did not fight back, and they declined to press charges.” They simply treated their wounds and went on with their Civil Rights work.

      In 2009, forty-eight years after this event, a white man about John Lewis's age walked into his office on Capitol Hill, accompanied by his middle-aged son. “Mr. Lewis,” he said, “my name is Elwin Wilson. I'm one of the men who beat you in that bus station back in 1961. I want to atone for the terrible thing I did, so I've come to seek your forgiveness. Will you forgive me?” Lewis said, “I forgave him, we embraced, he and his son and I wept, and then we talked.”

     As Lewis came to the end of this remarkable and moving story, he leaned back in his seat on the bus. He gazed out the window for a while as they passed through a countryside that was once a killing ground for the Ku Klux Klan, of which Elwin Wilson had been a member. Then, in a very soft voice—as if speaking to himself about the story he had just told and all of the memories that must have been moving in him—Lewis said, “People can change …People can change …”

     This is our challenge today and every year on Yom Kippur, to recognize that some people may claim that we are hopelessly arrogant, but our answer is that we don’t have to be. We recount all of the sins that human beings commit so that we can move forward and courageously assert that we can and will do better.    It is up to us to unlock the potential of these prayers to lead us to goodness and to hope for the future of the human family. 


Friday, September 14, 2018

The Teaching - D'var Torah - Parashat Vayeilech - September 14, 2018

 From 2001 to 2006, I taught a spring semester course in Sociology of Religion at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.   I had been asked to teach that course because I had majored in Sociology in college at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.   The Sociology department head was a congregant at my Temple, and they needed someone to fill in at the last minute because the usual instructor had taken a leave of absence.    I had only a week to prepare the course after a quick look at the textbook.  
    I settled into the course rather quickly.   One of the assignments I gave my students was to go to a house of worship or a gathering of a faith group not their own in order to observe and to report on what they witnessed.   I would ask them note how the group expressed their core beliefs, what symbols were central to the worship experience, how people present were personally acknowledged, which rituals involved participation of worshippers and which involved a leader presenting a core message, and how social ties were created before, during and after the service.    For me, it was an exercise not only in teaching, but in self-reflection.  Every Shabbat, I would keep this assignment in mind as our worship at my congregation, and our post-service reception, the Oneg Shabbat, unfolded.  
   We can easily engage in this type of observation in the present day.  Sometimes ancient texts describe in some detail rituals and customs from the past.   The Torah reading for this Shabbat from the book of Deuteronomy does just that, in its own way. 
    It is really difficult to know when this passage originated.  Traditionalists would say that God gave it to Moses on Mount Sinai, well before this scene prior to crossing into Canaan ever materialized.   Some scholars would say that the whole book of Deuteronomy was nearly identical to a “Book of the Teaching of Moses” that was found in the Temple in Jerusalem in 621 BCE during the reign of King Josiah.   Other commentators would date this section to 100 to 200 years after that.   
    The date may not really matter at all.  What is important is that this scene portraying a special ritual, with community values proclaimed before the people, depicts ancient practices that are quite similar to what we do now in our respective congregations.
      First, the people were gathered together into one place. There was not yet a Temple, given that the Israelites seem to have been witnessing Moses’ farewell speech in an outdoor setting, likely near their Tent of Meeting that they set up in the wilderness.
    Second, there was a sermon.  If you look only at this section, it was a very short sermon.  If you count the entire book of Deuteronomy as Moses’ speech, well, it was much, much longer!   With Moses about to conclude his time as leader of the Israelites, passing the torch to Joshua, he knew that he had to reassure his people and offer them a sense of security that would outlast his presence with them.    So he told them to be strong and resolute.  He declared that God would be with them wherever they would go.    In those moments, he used his words to bestow his spirit upon them in a way that would preserve his legacy.  
   Third, the leader’s message was put into writing.  As I already mentioned, we are not sure if “this Teaching” that Moses wrote down was this short section or the whole book of Deuteronomy.  It might have even been the entire Torah, from Genesis through Deuteronomy.   In any case, it was written down so it could be read again and again.  Similarly, these days, most any clergy person saves his or her messages of all types in writing or online, because they embody the essence of who he or she is and what he or she believes. 
    Fourth, there were other leaders involved in the ritual, who would read the Teaching they received from Moses in the future at a set time - in this case, that was to be every seven years at the time of the fall harvest festival, the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles, called in Hebrew SUKKOT.   And it would not be in that place that the Teaching was originally read – to the east of the Jordan River -- but in a place that God would choose after the Israelites had settled across the Jordan. 
    Fifth, there was a symbol that was a focal point for the people: the Ark of the Covenant.   It signified the teachings that the people would continue to study in future.  The Ark reminded them that God was with them.  
   Sixth, this section gave specific instructions regarding who should listen to the Teaching being read every seven years.  The directions were crystal clear: “Gather the people—men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities—that they may hear and so learn to revere the Eternal your God and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching.”  It was a worship experience that included religious education among community members and for anyone who was curious and happened to be in the vicinity.  The focus, though, seemed to be on assuring that the children, who hadn’t personally lived through the Exodus from Egypt and all those years in the desert, would be able to teach their children and grandchildren the stories from their past and the values that were most important for their people. 
     So this passage from the Torah sets a pattern for a gathering of people for prayer and study that we still follow today.   I believe that it also sends us a crucial message: that we should be strong and resolute, or courageous, about taking a stand for our own beliefs, and that we should see the value in joining with many people to reflect on such a text together, not just in our congregations, but across a variety of faith groups.   If we see our whole community as being gathered together as one - men, women, and children - we may just have a chance to truly reach a promised land, a future filled with mutual respect, with understanding, with hope, and with peace.