Parashat Devarim [Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22]
TORAH [Teaching/Tale]: We have entered the month of Av. The fire is coming. Next week, is Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, a day of fasting on the anniversary of the fall/s of Jerusalem and the burning/s of the Temple/s in Jerusalem. This week we also open a new book of Torah, Deuteronomy, or Devarim – which likewise forecasts devastation and exile for the stiff-necked Jewish people.
In this week’s portion Moses repeatedly calls upon Israel to no longer be complacent, afraid, or dismayed. “You have stayed too long at this mountain. About face! Get yourself moving!” (Deut. 1:6-7). And though you have and will face giants, “You have been skirting this mountain long enough. Now turn northward! …cross the borders of your kinsmen.” (Deut. 2:2-3)
We recognize that it is time for a change …and that in instigating change, we are ‘playing with fire,’ as it were. We are scared. “You have no faith in YHVH your God, who goes before you…in fire [at] night to show you the way to go.” (Deut. 1:29,33) In the Hebrew text, there is no preposition before the word night. It is as if “night” is the fire showing us the way. Out of the darkness and void, light is born. From the ashes of the Temple, the Torah goes forth from Zion. Out of the ashes of the holocaust, the modern state of Israel emerged. And from your ‘night,’ what light will you create?
MIDAH [virtue/value]: Love. Love, whose primary function is to instigate growth-ful change. Love, and its offspring – enthusiasm, alacrity, determination and will, as well as aggravation, jealousy, anger, and hate. These are hot coals, fires that no waters can extinguish (Song of Songs 8:7). Love, the change agent in the universe. The fire of Shin [ש] is the seed of change / Shinui [שנוי]. We burn with desire. And when we do not, a Moses, an “enemy”, or the universe, tries to ‘light a fire under our butts.' Have you been “burned” lately? Consider that the cause of your ‘burn’ was love. What growth-ful change was it trying to instigate? Can you let the pillar of [night’s] fire guide you forward?
MITZVAH [Obligation to Other]: In the parashah, Moses throws (some unfounded) accusations at Israel. When such flames are sent in our direction the tendency is to get defensive, and/or to fight fire with fire. Our obligation to others is to dan l’chaf zechut, to judge others on the side of merit, to attribute to them the best of intentions, to recognize the love at the source of the accusations, to seperate the light from the darkness in their words or deeds, and to receive the light as a guiding pillar in the night.
AVODAH [spi-ritual practice]: The word havdalah refers to the ability to distinguish or differentiate. The ritual Havdalah is performed on Saturday evenings when the first  stars can be seen in the night sky. The ceremony is a short, simple and spiritual potent means of transitioning from the restful peace of Shabbat to the necessary and meaningful work of the week. It incorporates wine, spices, a special candle, and blessings for each. The havdalah candle braids several wicks in such a way that the distinct wicks contribute fuel to a single flame. After Shabbat, we light a fire to motivate and inspire the work ahead. Kindle the light before and after Shabbat each week to welcome love as the soul's change agent.