V’etchanan 5783 – Hapotei’ach
This week on the Jewish calendar is known as shavua shechal bo (The week “it” resides in) – referring to the week of Tisha B’av, the fast day that commemorates, among other things, the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem. It is one of the saddest days on the Jewish calendar, and the week is marked with mourning rituals such as refraining from eating meat and playing instrumental music. Throughout Jewish history, it has been a reminder of times when our prayers were left unanswered, when we called out to God and did not hear a response.
The destruction of the Second Temple was attributed to a proliferation of sinat chinam, senseless hatred, amongst the people of Israel. This week, I feel that senselessness in the Kenesset’s vote to limit the powers of the Supreme Court in order to be able to enact conservative laws that will further divide the country and threaten the very essence of Israel’s democracy. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets and walked out of jobs in protest in an inspiring display of unity, perseverance, and resolve.
On a week like this, however, it can feel like we are at the end of our wits, lost and without direction. Moses too felt this way. Confronted with the fact of not being allowed to enter the homeland he spent his life guiding a people towards, he says,
וָאֶתְחַנַּן אֶל ה’ בָּעֵת הַהִוא לֵאמֹר
I pleaded with God at that time, saying, (Devarim 3:23)
The Pa’aneaḥ Raza, a 16th century Chasidic commentator from Prague notices that in Gematria (Hebrew numerology) the word V’etchanan is equivalent to 515 (6+1+400+8+50+50). This is the same as Tefillah (prayer) and also the same as Shirah (song). Song and prayer can lift up the pleading intentions of our hearts. They can unify us, orient us, empower us to change the way we walk in the world, especially when we pour into the song and prayer the feelings within our hearts and souls. In fact, in the Talmud we learn,
מִיּוֹם שֶׁחָרַב בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ נִנְעֲלוּ שַׁעֲרֵי תְּפִלָּה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״גַּם כִּי אֶזְעַק וַאֲשַׁוֵּעַ שָׂתַם תְּפִלָּתִי״.
וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁשַּׁעֲרֵי תְפִילָּה נִנְעֲלוּ, שַׁעֲרֵי דִמְעָה לֹא נִנְעֲלוּ
Since the day the Temple was destroyed the gates of prayer were locked and prayer is not accepted as it once was, as it is written: “Though I plead and call out, God shuts out my prayer” (Lamentations 3:8). Yet, despite the fact that the gates of prayer were locked, the gates of tears are not locked (BT Berachot 32b)
That is what these words from our liturgy are attempting to reflect: Hapotei’ach b’chol yom daltot sha’arei mizrach u’vokei’ah chalonei raki’a – The One who, every day, opens up the doors to the Gates of the East, breaking open the windows of the sky…
Our voices, united together, can change the course of history, move mountains, and break open the heavens. This week, find ways to gather in community to pray, to sing, to plan, and to act.
P.s. my dear friend Eitan Kantor has a gorgeous melody for the talmudic quote above. You can listen to it here