This week’s Torah reading, Va’Etchanan, begins with the difficult words Moses utters when he says: “And I pleaded”. Moses desperately wants to enter Israel, and pleads with God, but God tells Moses that will never happen, and that Moses must stop praying for it. The midrash tells us that Moses continues to find ways to argue his point up to his last moments of life. In other words, do we ever agree to stop praying, even if God commands us to?
The Jewish response to everything we encounter is to receive it with awareness, intention, soulfulness, and action. The very first Jewish couple, Abraham and Sarah, were told to journey, Lech Lecha, and once that journey begins, it cannot stagnate. We are commanded to educate ourselves, engage our souls, and formulate actions that heal and repair. Part of engaging our souls is to move ourselves deeper into prayerful moments that make us reflect inward, as well as make us connect with each other, and with God. How is it possible that God has told Moses to stop praying?
In fact, this very question speaks to us today. When we watch what is happening in Israel these last few weeks, it is troubling to our souls. There are synagogues that have decided to stop saying the Prayer for the State of Israel in protest of a government they feel they cannot support. They are choosing to stop praying, sometimes because they question whether God is listening, sometimes because they feel it is the only way to express their protest. But the pain of what we see on the news is powerful because it is our nation, the Jewish people, clashing internally. It is our family hurting each other, and as we share one soul, we are all hurting.
The Jewish response to a challenge is never to stop praying, it is to invest ourselves more. Rather than turn away from the news, we are to invest more in understanding the situation, more intentional supports, more soulfulness. The Prayer for the State of Israel should be followed each week with a prayer for peace within the Jewish people. We do not walk away from spiritual investment, we lean into it.
Even when God explicitly tells Moses to stop praying, Moses finds ways to continue –it is the power of who we are, and we will always bring it to God.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.