Parshah Summary – P’shat
The fifth and final book of the Torah opens with Moses beginning his recap of the Torah to the Children of Israel, who are all assembled on the bank of the Jordan river. He begins by recounting the events and teachings that were given in the course of their forty-year journey from Egypt to Sinai and then to the Promised Land, both rebuking them for their failings and encouraging them to remain faithful to the path he has set before them. In the course of the parshah, Moses recalls the judges and leaders appointed to ease his burden in leadership; the journey from Sinai through the vast desert; the sending of the spies and the people’s fear of entering the Land, leading to that entire generation dying out in the desert.
Also recounted are more recent events: the refusal of the nations of Mo’av and Ammon to allow the Israelites to pass through their countries; the wars against the Emorite kings Sikhon and Og, and the settlement of their lands by the tribes of Reuven and Gad and part of the tribe of Manasheh; and Moses’ message to his successor, Joshua, who will take over Moses’ leadership after his death.
Torah of Awakening
לֹֽא־תַכִּ֨ירוּ פָנִ֜ים בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֗ט כַּקָּטֹ֤ן כַּגָּדֹל֙ תִּשְׁמָע֔וּן
Don’t show favoritism in judgment;
like the lesser as the greater, you shall listen…
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:17, Parshat Devarim
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk asked one of the hasidim of Rabbi Moshe, soon after Rabbi Moshe’s death, “What was most important to your teacher?” The hasid thought for a bit and then replied, “Whatever he happened to be doing in the moment.”
Maintaining attentiveness to whatever we happen to be doing in the moment is crucial, though not particularly easy. On the other hand, it is relatively easy to see when someone else is not being attentive. When we see someone being defensive, angry, or complaining, or blaming, it is simple to diagnose. But, when we become annoyed with that person for getting caught in their own unconsciousness, how easy it is to get caught ourselves; we resist the resistance of others, and can’t see that we ourselves are resisting.
While it would certainly be desirable for everyone to wake up from the dream of ego, we can only ever wake up ourselves. Yes, there is a synergy between people; awakening begets more awakening, and unconsciousness begets more unconsciousness. But at the end of the day, the choice to awaken – meaning, the choice to receive and accept this moment as it is – is an essentially individual matter; you can only do it for yourself, right now.
So, in the moment that we perceive the ego of someone else and forget to be aware of our own, we must remember: there is only one time to be awake, and that time is always now. This can be difficult because now is constant; we tend to be unconscious of things that are constant, like our breathing, for example. That is why it is so helpful to use that which is not constant to remind us of the Constant, to use time and change to stay awake to the Changeless and the Timeless…
וֶהֱוֵי זָהִיר בְּמִצְוָה קַלָּה כְבַחֲמוּרָה
Be careful with a light mitzvah as with a grave one…
Pirkei Avot, 2:1
There are lesser and greater mitzvot; obviously, the mitzvah to light a Shabbat candle is not as great as the mitzvah of saving a life, for example. And, yet, this mishnah is saying we should be just as careful with the lesser ones as with the greater ones. How can this be? If we should be just as careful with the lesser ones as with greater ones, doesn’t that destroy the whole idea that are lesser ones and greater ones?
וֶהֱוֵי זָהִיר – Be careful… The word for “careful” is זָהִיר zahir, which can also mean “watchful” or “attentive.” Understood this way, it is not saying that it is just as important to observe the lesser mitzvot as the greater ones; it is saying that no matter what mitzvah you are doing, you should be just as זָהִיר zahir – you should be just as attentive, just as present. And furthermore, it is our awareness of the very fact that not all mitzvot are equal that reminds us: even though the mitzvot are not all equal, we can still bring equal Presence to them all.
And, as different as the various mitzvot are, even more varied are our moments in life; you cannot compare a moment of childbirth or a moment of death to a moment of putting toothpaste on your toothbrush. And yet, the message is: וֶהֱוֵי זָהִיר hevei zahir – be present in all moments, great and small. And, use your awareness of the great and small to remind you: the moment to be זָהִיר zahir is always this moment…
לֹֽא־תַכִּ֨ירוּ פָנִ֜ים – Don’t show favoritism in judgment… On the surface, this is Moses is telling the Israelites judges that they should judge fairly, not giving preference to either the poor and powerless or to the great and powerful. But on a metaphorical level, כַּקָּטֹ֤ן כַּגָּדֹל֙ kakaton kagadol – “like the small, like the great” – regardless of whether the moment is mundane and insignificant or crucially important, תִּשְׁמָע֔וּן tishma’un – listen! Be fully present.
Because in being fully present, you are being what you truly are, beneath and beyond the sense of self that is constructed of thoughts and feelings, the self that judges lesser and greater, the self that prefers this over that. At the core of your being and beyond the border of all that you perceive, you are presence, vast and unconditionally free. And even more, that presence is truly the One Presence, the One Reality present in all things, awake right now through your own senses, ever creating and perceiving Itself, That from which all arises to Which all will return.
This is not merely a belief or an idea; it is a description of the experience that arises when we sustain our attentiveness over time; this is meditation.
When we apply meditation in the flow of life, being זָהִיר zahir moment to moment so as not to get lost in the fantasies of the mind, this is the Path of ש Shin – the fire of awareness. In this week of Shabbat Devarim, the Sabbath of Words, may we dwell in the stillness of Presence brought on by the fire of awareness, so that all our words may arise from the wisdom of that stillness…
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