The names we give today to the five books of the Torah are revealing. In the beginning is Bereshit, which, with vibrant intensity balanced by serene elegance, launches the Torah, life and the world. Shemot and Exodus are both apposite names. The latter is a perfect introduction to the story of our, well, exodus from slavery, Egypt and the past. The former is more subtle. Names are wrenched from people who are enslaved or are imprisoned in concentration camps. Their names are replaced by numbers as one part of the brutal process of dehumanisation. Our names, after all, are part of our identity and have their stories to tell. It is fitting then that, immediately before we read of the slavery of our ancestors, we start with the names of their tribal parents. We never stopped being people.
Vayikra (and He called) Moses. Why? To tell us the levitical, and other, laws. B’midbar is perfect, for, while it also includes more laws, it also focuses on the forty years we spent in the wilderness, seemingly going from pillar to post, but really preparing to arrive, to become Israel.
Which brings us to Devarim. Words, just words, words which make us human. God uses words in Bereshit to create the world. Adam and Eve complete the creation of the animals by naming them. Together with music and art, words are what enable us to transcend our mortality. While they may be used to hurt, deceive and lie, at their best, they enable us to soar with the angels, though our feet may be made of clay. They are what dreams are made from. They weave harmony, beauty, Torah.
Now we have come to the second parsha of Devarim, Va’ethannan, which is packed with riches, some of which have entered into our liturgy, and a special guest, namely Student Rabbi Lev Taylor, will tell us more, lead us in prayer and song (for, remember, Lev Taylor has a full-hearted, melodious voice). Don’t miss him this Saturday at 10:30.