Parsha Ki Tavo September 17, 2011 18 Elul 5771 Rabbi Dr. Moshe P. Weisblum
Shabbat shalom and good morning, members and guests.
How many of you have heard of a GPS? Do you know what it means and what it does? Somehow, the GPS knows exactly where you are. With the GPS, you can tell it where you are going, put in the zip code, city, and even the specific location. It will then get you from where you are to where you are going.
I am sure that many of you, like me, occasionally get lost. There may be a detour or a new road. If your GPS is like mine, a pretty Julie with a British accent will tell you in a friendly and calm voice, "Recalculate."
This is very appropriate for the month of Elul and the upcoming days of Rosh Hashanah. We know where we are now, but is this where we should be, and do we know where we truly want to go? Are we able to prepare without punching in places in our internal GPS? Can we recalculate our thoughts and actions? What will help us?
The Torah portion for today, Ki Tavo, tells of Moses instructing the Israelites on how to build the altar. The GPS tells us where to go. What does our heart tell us?
We read a frightening portion dealing with a serious admonition with curses and blessings. One may ask what does this have to do with my life today, in 2011? Nachmanides (13th century) suggested that all of these admonitions applied to the era of the Second Temple, when Jews went through a period of agony and sorrow. Abarbanel (15th century) believed these curses were reflective of a much broader period. However, others believe that these curses are actually personal warnings, much like a doctor advising a patient not to eat certain foods. This is not a curse but a caution.
The month of Elul is a period of introspection, not a time to blame our spouse, family, boss, or bank. It is a time to take inventory of our choices, just as the GPS calmly tells us to recalculate.
We are all saddened by the passing of Joelle Lewandowski at age 32. Joelle fought a long, hard battle with cancer. She and I spoke several times a week for endless hours. She was scared to go for more chemotherapy, and I put arduous effort into uplifting her spirit and giving her hope. I would share stories and jokes, among other things. Her husband told me that she felt cheered at the end of our conversations.
She told me of the strength and joy she received from listening to the sound of the shofar, but she was far too weak from the chemotherapy to come to services to hear this magnificent sound. Our tradition is not to blow the shofar on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, but I said I would make an exception for her.
When she said her prayers, I told her to call me, and I blew the shofar so she could hear it. We can learn many lessons from Joelle. Her wanting to hear the sound of the shofar, her acceptance of G-d’s inscrutable will, tell us that she did not need a GPS. She had reached her destination. We know she was so loved, her foresight and her indefatigable devotion to Judaism a model for us. Her life was the epitome of courage and deep faith.
During this month of Elul, we must take the time to reflect and prepare for the High Holy Days. Do we need to recalculate with our GPS? Joelle can be our personal GPS at this time, beseeching the Almighty on our behalf, asking Him to grant us and guide us to a happy and healthy 5772. This is what I, too, wish for you. Amen.