Clingy – Parshat Vaetchanan 5781

I’ve always been bothered by the end of the movie Titanic when Rose climbs on to the door in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean after the ship goes down. There seems to be room for Jack to climb on top of the door with her, and yet he dies and she survives. Why do they both not get to make it and only one of them is pulled to safety? There has been much debate about this scene over the 24 years since the movie came out, including a segment on the television show Mythbusters that recreated the tragic ending with a replica of the door. The obvious answer is because it makes the story even more dramatic and moving, not to mention the tragedy of the Titanic isn’t a happy story to begin with. But if you prefer a bit of dark humor, you could say the reason is because Jack didn’t want to be the clingy one in this relationship. 

Of course in this memorable movie scene, “clinging” is a matter of life and death. However, when we turn the verb “cling” into the adjective “clingy” we’re usually referring to people, things, and ideas we hold onto for emotional reasons, not physical necessity. For example, there are some things that we cling to in order to give us hope or sustain us through a rocky patch. “The light at the end of the tunnel” is a cliché that reminds us that if we can just reach a certain point, a reward will follow. Or, as my trainer says, “You can do anything for 30 seconds.” It’s a little bit of hyperbole, but knowing that those 30 seconds will end is the hope I cling to in order to push through the last two minutes of holding a plank. What are some things you cling to? 

Parshat Vaetchanan, which we read this week, offers some insight into this concept. The Torah portion continues with the retelling of the laws here again in the book of Deuteronomy. We also read about God’s persistent refusal to allow Moshe to enter the Land of Israel. The Torah then issues a caution to uphold the mitzvot as the key to building the new Israelite society. Moshe then sets three cities of refuge, and we receive probably the most well-known instruction in the Torah, the Shema. 

In chapter four we receive a verse of Torah that is still used today in the congregation just before the reading of the Torah. “While you, who are clinging to the Lord your God, are all alive today.” In the midst of recounting the destruction of those who didn’t serve God, this verse tells us that Israel is alive today, and Judaism exists today because the people have “clung” to God. Faith, in a sense, is that floating door in Titanic, and that is how we survive. 

“Clinging” to faith looks different for each of us. Holding onto Judaism can look like maintaining multiple traditions over generations, or simply keeping a recipe as sacred to the family. Some of us cling to God, while others cling to the specific words of Torah that bring us meaning and comfort. However you interpret it, this idea of holding tightly to each other and to our tradition is the reason Judaism has survived, and if we remain clingy, it will continue to survive.  

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