The song unsung


This week’s Torah portion is Ekev, Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25.

In these past weeks we entered into the month of Av and observed two very different, yet related holidays. The first, Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) is a solemn fast day that represents for us all the evil that has befallen our people. The primary representation centers on the destruction of the Temples, particularly the Second Temple that the rabbis teach was destroyed for the sin of sinat chinam or baseless hatred.

Six days later is the second holiday, Tu B’Av (the 15th of Av), also a post-biblical holiday, but this day is a day of love. Some even call it the Jewish Valentine’s Day.

But look what we do: We take a full day to mourn and remember what baseless hatred can do, not only to us but to the entire world, and then less than a week later, we devote a day to love, unconditional love. What a balanced way to live a life.

This summer, I have been working as a pastoral care intern at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington. I’ve been privileged to spend my summer around our elders who have graciously shared with me their life stories: their sorrows and joys;
their hopes, dreams, fears and regrets; their wisdom and even their pettiness. From each encounter, I come away enriched, having learned something about how to live, or not live, a life. All are valuable lessons freely shared. These are their life stories. These are their legacies.

In this week’s parsha we find the verse, “Man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that God decrees.” This summer, this verse (8:3) spoke to me more strongly than it ever has before, loudly affirming that we all have souls as well as bodies.

And if we neglect these souls, our spiritual sides, these sparks of life and uniqueness within each of us, then we do so at our own peril. It is not only bread — food and other material things that nourish and keep us alive — it is our inner selves that sustain us even when we get to the point when the outer world and all its trappings no longer seem as important. We cannot control where our bodies will take us. As individuals, we cannot control the economic condition of the world or the ecological state of the planet. We can, however, control our inner lives, our faith and our spirituality.

I recently learned a beautiful piece of poetry by Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in literature. He received it in 1913.

“I have spent many days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung,” he wrote.

Most of us spend our lives rushing and doing and planning — stringing and unstringing our instruments. It is only when we take the time and listen to the words of Torah, when we remember that there is a power greater than ourselves out there, when we admit that we cannot control everything, that we will remember to take time to sing our own individual songs and truly live our lives. Then we will reach the Promised Land.

Food for thought:

How would you interpret the verse, Deuteronomy 8:3, quoted above?

The poem by Rabindranath Tagore mentions the song unsung. What is the song that you want to sing? How can you live a life to make sure that you will be able to sing it?

Arlene Berger is the rabbi of Olney Kehila.

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