This Shabbat (Aug 8-9), the last Cozy-Shabbat of Summer 2014, we had the pleasure of many guest families, mostly from Toronto but also from NJ and Monsey, especially three alumni couples from the years 2001-2. On Friday Night, a number of people shared insights and inspiration from the Parsha of Va’Etchanan, the Shema which is the highlight of the Torah portion, and current events in Israel and around the world. 

Mr. S. J. – In this week’s Torah portion of Va’etchanan, Moshe pleads and prays repeatedly for G-d’s permission to enter the Land of Israel, but the answer remains No. It may be hard for us to understand from our lens and viewpoint, but Hashem knows best and ultimately it is Hashem’s Will that controls the world. As recents events unfold in Israel and across the world., we realize more and more than it is impossible to figure out or control everything, but it really is in the hands of Hashem.

Dr. A. M. – In the famous first line of Shema, Hashem is referred to by two different names. There are different ways to understand and appreciate these different names of G-d, but one interpretation I heard from Rabbi Berel Wein is that there’s the compassionate aspect of G-d, and the opposite aspect of justice, each represented by these Divine Names. And the message is Shema is that these different aspects of Hashem are all one. Like Mr. S.J. said its often hard for us to understand, especially when we have such a small window into the big picture, but we ought to remember that Hashem is One, regardless of what we may be experiencing at that very time, justice or compassion.

Dr. W.B. – The Shema speaks of the unity and oneness of G-d, which is reflected in the unity of the Jewish people. This summer has been an extraordinary display of Jewish unity and connectedness. Sadly, it was a tragedy that brought us all together, beginning with the kidnapping of the three youths in Israel, continuing through the discovery of their bodies, and the war in Gaza after the barrage of unrelenting rockets hit Israel. You see incredible unity across the spectrum of Israel politics which is ordinarily very opinionated and divided, and the same is true of Jewish communities around the world. I have personally never seen Hareidi communities offer public prayers for the IDF and it is inspiring to see secular Jews join in reciting Psalms. This type of Jewish unity is an extraordinary blessing that we ought to invest in and maintain even without tragedy to bring us together. May this type of unity bring about the blessings we need as a people, including the ultimate redemption.

Dr. G.S. – Echoing what my old friend and fellow South African “landsman” Dr. W.B. said, we here in Albany have experienced a very strong sense of unity and solidarity, and it’s beautiful to be at a Shabbos table like this at Shabbos House with guests from Toronto, London and NJ, different ages and backgrounds, all expressing support and closeness with Israel, this is very heartening and uplifting.

Mr.F. – Currently the DafYomi Talmud study cycle is in tractate Megillah, and there are many fascinating Midrashim about the Purim story. One passage says that when “the King removed his signet ring and gave it to Haman” that’s when Jews realized the seriousness of the crisis and began to earnestly do Teshuvah. In those days and up until fairly recently historically, kings and nobles had a signet ring with the imprint of their crest or symbol that would be pressed into hot wax as a form of signature. Now, another Medrash tells us that when the Megillah says “the King”, in addition to King Achashvairosh, it can also refer to G-d, the King of Kings. So what does it mean that G-d took off his signet ring? A ring is round, and can represent the cycle of life, the routine that we keep going around in, day after day, week after week, month after month. We can get stuck in that ring, that cycle, be comfortable and lulled by it, and only when G-d takes off that ring, and shakes it up a bit, do we realize that we can not be complacent, we can’t rely on routine, and it awakens us to reconnect in more meaningful ways and not take the cycle for granted.

Mr. M. – In this week’s Parsha of Va’etchanan, it says “G-d did not choose us as his people because we were most numerous, for we are the smallest among the nations…” I heard a beautiful interpretation from Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks: Why would being smaller and less numerous be a reason to be chosen? Think of smaller communities, or smaller-businesses, each individual feels more valued and significant and needed. Being a small people, means a people where no one is expendable and where everyone plays a valued role. (We pointed out the verse from Isaiah inscribed on our Aron Kodesh which symbolizes the Rebbe’s insistence on the individual…)

Shellie F. – We got married the same week that the 3 boys were kidnapped, and Rabbi Mendel mentioned them at our Chuppah. Since then after each Shabbos, without contact to the outside world for 24 hours, we hope and pray for good news. And it hasn’t always been so good (yet). So here’s my wish for this Shabbat. May we open our phones after Shabbat to good news!

Ilan M. made a very meaningful and relevant song suggestion, “Vhee She’Omda” which is from the Passover Haggadah. Why Passover in summertime? Because the song says that “in every generation they rise up against us” yet G-d saves us from their hand.