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Rabbi Sydni's Shabbat Sermons

פרשת דברים, תש״פ

Parshat D'varim, 5780

by Rabbi Sydni

Saturday, July 25th, 2020

A Meditation on Words

Starting tomorrow morning, we’ll be embarking on our journey through the book of Devarim, Deuteronomy. The Hebrew word Devarim literally means “words,” but it can more deeply mean things, matters, or stuff. Judaism is a tradition filled with words, both culturally and religiously. While spending time in study and questioning with these words can be intriguing, the massive amount of Hebrew words in the prayer book and Torah readings can also be mind numbing, especially if Hebrew is not our first language, especially if that Hebrew is rushing past at the speed of light.

Instead of a d’var Torah or text study this evening, I would like to start us out with some suggestions for how to follow and find meaning in the vast sea of Hebrew words we will encounter in Shabbat services, both tonight and tomorrow morning. With every Psalm we sing and prayer we recite tonight, I would like you to notice how many Hebrew words you know the meaning of. Ask yourself, what does it mean that these are the words I know? What does that say about the priorities of Judaism that these are the words I was taught before any others? And if you notice that certain words repeat themselves throughout a single prayer or Psalm, what does that say about the intent or meaning of that piece?

Today, begin to explore the words you recognize, and in future weeks within this book of Devarim, I will ask you to try out some other experiments with words. In future services, you may choose to meditate on one word and see where and how often it appears in the service - shalom (peace), Yisrael (Israel, or the Jewish people), ahavah (love). Each service, I will challenge you to learn a new word. If a word sounds like it repeats itself quite a bit, and you do not know what it means, ask a neighbor or ask me for a definition. As we progress through Devarim, the book of Moses’ words, originally spoken by God, let us dive into the sacred language, lashon ha-kodesh, of our ancient texts. Through an exploration of the significance and nuance of each of these words, we can expand our personal theology and approach to life, joining our ancestors’ millennia of traditions, beliefs, and quests for understanding.