MOS 5-Point Parasha - Vaetchanan 5779

"Shabbat Nachamu" - The Shabbat of Comfort, Consolation, Soothing


Here is our weekly "5-Point Parasha", a short list of what we are enjoying or pondering, as it relates to life and Torah.

Rabbi Sherril is reflecting on the Shema this week:

Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Echad – Listen Israel, G!d is our G!d, G!d is One. (Devarim/Deuteronomy 6:4)

This week we read in Torah that central declaration of Jewish faith, the Shema. “Listen Israel, G!d is our G!d, G!d is One,” it says. But what does it actually mean to say that G!d is One? Does it mean that there is only one G!d, extraordinary and unique, different from any other being in our experience? Or that G!d is the only Presence in the entire universe, Whose energy manifests in all creation, and we are part of that energy that we call G!d?

When the Kabbalists of 16th century Sefad chanted the Shema, they claimed that they were revealing the unity of the cosmos, uniting all duality and resolving all contradictions. They understood that they themselves - indeed, all of creation - were manifestations of the divine. For them, G!d was immanent as well as transcendent, available in every place at every moment. There was not anything or any place in which G!d was not present. Even in this week’s Torah we read ein od milvado – there is nothing else besides G!d. (Devarim 4:35)

The Kabbalists sought to repair their world. They sought healing and wholeness after times of trauma and exile. With the Shema, the Kabbalists tried to bring unity to all things that normally would be thought of as conflicting, such as love and power, or compassion and judgment.

They did this by conceptualizing the Shema as an all-encompassing comprehensive statement of wholeness. From their perspective, the Shema is a formula that unites the space-time continuum (although I am pretty sure that is not exactly how they would have explained it!).

According to the Kabbalists, the 6 words of the Shema correspond to the 6 directions in space: north, south, east, west, up and down. So, that means that all of space including the heavens would be united with this phrase.

The 6-word phrase that follows the Shema, Baruch shem kevod malkhuto l’olam va’ed – Blessed is G!d’s Glorious Majesty for ever and ever – is the formula that unites all of time.

And so just as all space and time are united from all 6 directions in the heavenly realm as we say the Shema, so are they united down below, here on earth, when we say Baruch shem kevod malkhuto l’olam va-ed. As above, so below.

When we hear the Shema through the voices of the Kabbalists, we understand that they were seekers of unity. But what does it mean to say the Shema for those of us living in this time, in this place? Is the One G!d the Kabbalists of old believed in, the same G!d we/you/I believe (or don’t believe) in?

The challenge here is that most of us struggle with our conception of G!d, if we even have a relationship with the Divine at all. Some of us may feel that teachings about G!d are not relevant to us. Some of us may have doubts about G!d and are uncertain in our faith. Some of us are believers “just in case,” but don’t know precisely what it is that we believe.

So here’s a thought: what if we approach the words of the Shema as an elegantly simple invitation to us to just explore what we believe? What if we saw the words as more than just freeze-dried ink in a prayer-book? What if we saw them as a welcoming, meaningful invitation to let these words tangibly and actively impact our lives? As an invitation to let these words be acted upon, to wrestle with, to be lived and lived into?

Shema Yisrael. Listen Israel. The Hebrew name Yisrael was given to the people in memory of the patriarch Jacob. Remember, it was Jacob who received the name Israel when he wrestled with an angel in the night. The angel gave the name Yisrael to Jacob, saying that it meant “One who has wrestled with beings divine and human and who has prevailed.”

To be Israel means to struggle with the divine, whatever it is that is holy and sacred to you. A person need not be certain of any one belief. We are all like Jacob in this way, because our faith evolves over time, and we all have doubts and insecurities about what we believe. We are encouraged to struggle. We are supposed to ask hard questions, because then we know we are on the path of spiritual integrity. The Shema asks us to engage in the pursuit of faith, the struggle and the yearning to figure out who we are, what is important to us, and where we stand in the world.



The Spiritual History of the Shema by Rabbi Joseph M. Meszler

Rabbi Shefa Gold, Torah Journeys

This is a poem that touched Rabbi Sherril this week:


Let the whisper of the Infinite

Enter the secret chamber of your heart.

Yearning is a gift -

It pierces

The shell you build around who you truly are.

The Source of kindness

And the Source of justice

Are, in truth,

One Source,

The only one,

The Source of love.

Wrestle with the Infinite!

Limbs entwined,

Skin on skin,

Breath on breath,

You and the Great Other can meet -

Can meet yourselves -

Touch, dissolve,

Become One.

There is no other,

No otherness;

All that has been, all that is, and all that shall be,

All comes from One and all is One.

We all flower from the One Root -

We are KIN.


Poem excerpt by Alexander Massey, May 2011

What Cantor Heather has been learning:

Over the past month or so I have been taking Ayelet Rose Gottlieb’s wonderful “Singing with Freedom” workshop. Ayelet was a former Artist-in-Residence at the Lab/Shul in NYC and her own work touches on a variety of Jewish themes. Check her out:

What Rabbi Schachar recorded this week for Shabbat Nachamu:

This week we started our "Hebrew Through Torah" study (see below). The session was recorded and can be viewed at this link. We learned the meaning of the first two verses of the Haftara for Shabbat Nachamu, Yeshayahu/Isaiah 40:1-2. We also sang two great musical renditions of the verses: Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach & Rabbi Shlomo Katz.

Rabbi Schachar shares a link for a great Torah study website: is an amazing resource for those who would like to study Tanakh with classical Torah commentaries. I have been using it regularly for the last six months and do not intend to stop.

Announcements & Upcoming @MOS --

Live streaming available

We will focus primarily on Biblical Hebrew reading practice. You can make a small contribution for a session or the series by getting a ticket online.

Save the Date:

Elul is coming! In preparation for the High Holiday’s MOS is joining forces with R. Aubrey Glazer of Shaare Zion to offer Refresh, Reflect, and Renew – An Urban Elul Retreat on Sunday September 22. It should be truly lovely, so keep your eyes out for details.

Tickets now available on our website.

MOS needs High Holiday Torah readers! If you are interested please contact us so we can get you set up with a reading and all necessary preparation materials.