Newsletter         July 18, 2013 - 11 Menachem Av 5773



The War of The Shema

Welcome to the world Ava Rena, daughter of Adi and Phil Werthman  

They were wars of life and death, but, for me and many of their students, they were some of the most joyous moments of life. I refer to the philosophical wars of my father and Uncle Noach zt"l that were regularly waged whenever they were together.

Their most famous battles were about the Six Constant Mitzvot, which, to my uncle's chagrin, my father defined as a state of being. Uncle Noach saved my sisters' sanity and mine when the first comment he made upon our return from our father's burial was, "I can't believe that such a smart man could make such a terrible mistake." Our immediate rise to our father's defense allowed us to escape our numbing shock, our mindlessness, and reenter the world. We felt our father's live presence as we fought in his place.

Another famous battle was over the Mitzvah of Shema, which the Talmud teaches, is to, "Accept the Yoke of Heaven." My father read the verse as, "Listen Israel! 'God is our Lord,' meaning, He judges all we do because He cares about each one of us." He held that Accepting the Yoke of Heaven is to accept that God loves us enough to care about everything we do, because God is a Unity, and all of His creation is connected to Him. Hence, we conclude the sentence, "God is a Unity."

Uncle Noach raged against such a definition! "No! No! No! The Mitzvah to Accept the Yoke of Heaven is only the phrase, 'God is a Unity!'"

I love the fact that they cared enough about such subtleties to wage war. I love that they could battle each other in love. I love that they both continued to respectfully and lovingly listen to each other's reasoning despite having fought this battle for decades. I love that I recall their debate every time I recite the Shema, and how that memory brings the Shema to very passionate life.

I love most their living that opening, "Listen!" despite arguing over every word that follows. They both lived their lives with a firm belief that one must first be skilled at listening to be able to Accept the Yoke of Heaven.

"I like to see people speak up bravely amongst gallant men, and to see the words go where the thought goes. We should strengthen and toughen our ears against this tenderness toward the ceremonious sound of words (Michel de Montaigne, On the Art of  Discussion)." My father and uncle used the Shema to teach us to speak bravely, and to fiercely battle ceremonious and empty words.

They are alive when I recite the Shema, and I draw life from theirs, and I find comfort from the huge chasm left from their passing.

The only way we can listen to, and be comforted by, Isaiah's words of comfort, "Be comforted, be comforted My People (40:1)," is if we first learn to treasure our words and use them to speak up bravely for what we believe. I find my comfort in the Wars of the Shema.

Please, join me in the battle. I'm ready to listen.

Shabbat Shalom.


Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg 

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