Drash on Parashat D'varim (Chazon)
Rabbi Adi Cohen
Temple David, Perth, Western Australia
I would like to direct our attention to three aspects in Parashat D’varim: the framework, the visuality and the changing narrative.
The framework: This is Moshe's last address to the Israelites. Probably sitting on a rock, his skin burnt from the desert sun, he is reflecting on what his people have been through, this time through the filters of the human experience
Visually: The Israelites are instructed to camp each tribe and each family under their own flag. Each had their own colours, their patterns, their own unique identity. The visual richness of that moment surely was outstanding in the midst of the desert.
Narrative: The fifth book is different from the previous ones. The narrator is not a Divine voice telling us about the adventurous relationship between God and Israel. In this book, the narrator is Moshe, sharing moments of pride, awe, disappointment, love and frustration.
Lately, a small minority in the Jewish world is trying harder than ever before to push Progressive Jews outside of the Jewish camp. Now, more then ever, we have the same obligations to asses the framework in which we operate, celebrate the colourful diversity of our camp and reclaim our Jewish narrative.
Using the same terminology, these are the things that define my Judaism.
Framework: No Jewish denomination speaks in God's name, understands God’s will or holds the monopoly to mediate between us and our Jewish faith. Midrash Yalkut Shim’oni teaches that "the Sovereign of the universe showed Moshe each generation with its commentators, each generation with its sages..." The root of the word "halacha" in Hebrew is "to go, to move forward, to progress". Traditional Judaism is progressive, not fossilised.
Visually: Looking at the Jewish synagogues from around the world, we find both artistic and religious richness that should not be contained in museums. Just like the Israelites' flags, our synagogues, the colour, size and shape of our kippot, and even the way we sit during prayers are a visual reminder that throughout the ages, the relationships between Jewish communities were based upon unity, not unison.
Narrative: The quest for accessible, meaningful and diverse Judaism is not unique to Progressive Judaism; it is Judaism, traditional Judaism, at its best. It is reflected in the Talmud, and in the diversity of the halacha. Sadly, not everyone shares this viewpoint. Looking around the globe, we find that in North America, Progressive Jews are the majority of the minority, in Israel we are the minority of the majority and in our region we are the minority of the minority. However, Progressive Judaism is the vast majority of the religiously affiliated Jewish world.
It is time we start to tell our own story. It is time for us to change the narrative.
For far too long, we allowed other denominations in the Jewish world to tell the Jewish story, and time after time we were told that we are the "new" phenomenon, that we "changed" Judaism, that we are not authentic. Enough with that. Judaism has always been progressive. The most radical idea that changed traditional Judaism was the establishment of Orthodoxy (as we know it today) as a reaction to modernity and to the Reform movement. The modern halacha, "Chadash Asur Min HaTorah" (new is forbidden from the Torah, originally related to Hilchot Sh’mitah) fossilises Judaism in a place it was never meant to be.
It is time for us to acknowledge historical facts, change the story we tell ourselves and ask ourselves what is the story we are willing to accept from others.