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Letting Go of Children Sermon

Sermon by Rabbi Melanie Aron

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Yoni, Your portion is the longest in the book of Deuteronomy.  Moses has begun his last words to the Israelites and once he has gotten started, he finds that though he had originally been a man of few words, now he has a lot to say.

I think I told you that I related this to a personal experience I had when I left my congregation in Brooklyn. I sat down at my little apple computer to write down a few things, things I thought my successor should know. And without even realizing it, hours went by as I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.

Perhaps this is an experience all the parents in the sanctuary can relate to as well. We so want to make things easier for our kids, to protect them and give them insight. We want to share the things that we have learned, sometimes painfully, so they don’t have to make those same mistakes. When they leave our presence, whether for a day at school, a backpacking trip into the woods, or ultimately launched into their own lives, we think of so many things we want to be sure to remind them, from always wear sunscreen to deeper messages about living a life of integrity. We become like Moses, always remembering, one more thing of which we want to remind them.

For 31 chapters Moses attempts to impart wisdom to the Israelites, warning them about the ways their parents had gone astray in the wilderness, giving them good rules to follow in the land that they will be entering. In Yoni’s portion Moses lays out the calendar of holiday celebrations, I mentioned last night, the one without the High Holidays, and provides instruction on what they should eat and even on how the food is to be prepared.

Moses tried to have the new generation, born in the desert, experience vicariously the most dramatic moments of the 40 years of wanderings, rebellions and battles, and especially the experience at Mt Sinai. And as you pointed out Yoni, he tries to make their choices as vivid and concrete as possible, putting before the people two mountains, Mt Ebal and Mt Gerizim, visual aids so that the people can really see the consequences of their actions.

And then in Chapter 32 Moses switches tactics, he shares two poems and prepares to climb the Mountain and leave his people. One contemporary commentator suggests that this change illustrates Moses coming to an important realization about our ability to control events, other people and the future.

It is a realization that many parents come to as well. No matter how much advice we give, how vivid our warnings, how impassioned our pleas, there is a moment when we are no longer able to control the events of the future.

IN a sense what we say now has become irrelevant, what is important is what has been implanted within, that is the operational system that will take over. It is less the individual warnings and pleas and more a gestalt of all that has been internalized as they came to become the people that they are.

The Torah portion and what our tradition has made of it, teaches this in another way as well. Yoni, you read to us about the laws concerning forgiveness of debt. But unfortunately these laws didn’t work out as well in practice as they had in theory. People did exactly what the Torah told them not to do, and they refused to make loans, because they knew these debts would be wiped out. Then along came the great Hillel who created the PROSBUL which modified the letter of the Torah, so that its spirit would be preserved. Loans could be anchored to a court, and thus not forgiven, so that poor people would be able to get the funds that they needed. For Moses as for us as parents, we need to focus on the greater teaching that we want preserved, and that sometimes might mean letting go of particulars, which those who come after us will do differently.

Yoni, I feel secure that the values and teachings of Judaism are securely established as part of your operating system, so that long after you are out of the house, no longer “victim” of your parents constant reminders, you will continue to do the tov veyashar, the good and the upright. So may it be for all of us.

 

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