By Mark Thompson, cantorial soloist
For me personally, this year’s theme, New Beginnings, could not be more apropos. I began my 15-year cantorial career at Temple Beth Sholom in July 1994, and now, almost three decades later, as TBS enters an exciting and challenging “new beginning,” I’m back—older, grayer, and hopefully wiser–to serve as cantor once again and to assist my new friend and colleague Rabbi Sharon Sobel.
I am writing this a few hours before we begin reading the fifth and final book of the Torah, the Book of Deuteronomy or D’varim, which means “words.” D’varim marks the move from divine initiative to human responsibility. The Israelites must learn to fight their own battles, to discover that God is a power within, rather than some outside force that fights their battles for them. They must re-conceptualize God, not as some distant Being who performs miracles, and liberates them, but rather as One who is close – within the camp. Now, as the next generation stands on the verge of entering the Promised Land, ready to create a new, enduring society, Moses reshapes the narrative for them: He’s telling them: stand on your own two feet.
Parshat Devarim is a moment for recapitulation and reflection. It also is known as Shabbat Chazon (the Shabbat of Vision). We, like the Israelites on the banks of the Jordan River, stand at the edge of a future unknown. We, too, can dream. What has the journey been like for us as we envision our future? We can begin to reflect on our journey through Torah as well. I am fascinated by the various meanings of D’varim, derived from the Hebrew root word Dalet, Vet, Resh – Davar.
דֶבֶר – Dever
–Have we mostly been aware of our discomforts/objections/criticisms? If so, then
maybe it’s been mostly a plague for us.
דְבוֹרָה – Devora
–Has it been provoking, annoying? If so, then maybe it’s been mostly a swarm of
דוֹבֶר – Dovaer
–Has it been a nurturing environment? If so, then maybe it’s been mostly a pasture.
דָבָר – Davar
–Has it been a dynamic experience? If so, then maybe it’s been mostly an event.
מִדבָּר – Midbar
–Has it been bewildering? If so, then maybe it’s been mostly a wilderness.
לְדַבֵּר – L’dabayr
–Have I been silent too long? If so, then perhaps it’s time to speak.
The writing is never over. The next chapters are for us to write. I am blessed to be on this journey with you. My family and I wish you a healthy, productive, and enriching Shanah Tovah.