Hide and Seek – Parshat Vayelech 5782

Last year during the containment days, as we waited out one of the upward curves of Covid-19, we played our fair share of games of hide and seek. One hide and seek benefit for the parents? When it was our turn to hide, we’d get to hide in a dark room and have a few minutes of solitude while still giving the kids something fun to do. And on the kids’ turn to hide, we could sit down with a book or a cup of coffee for a few minutes, and “pretend” we couldn’t find them. When everyone was home all the time, this would give us a few moments of reprieve to recharge ourselves before we had to return to what seemed like an endless stream of education, entertainment, breaking up fights, and fighting boredom. I’m proud to say only once did the kids get so bored of hiding that they actually gave up on the game and revealed their own location. 

Our Torah portion this week, Parshat Vayelech, recounts something similar to hide and seek with God and the Israelites. This week we read of the difficulty leaders have in transferring over their power, in particular the final days of Moshe and the gift of life he had in living 120 years. The Israelites approach the land promised to them and witness the transfer of power to Joshua. Finally, Moshe writes the words of the Torah and passes down the commandment to the Kohanim to read the Torah. Moshe’s final moments with the Israelites are near, and he prepares for this by coming up with a transfer of legacy, tradition, and history.  

In chapter 31, verse 17 we read that God speaks to Moses and says, “I will abandon them and hide My countenance from them.” Basically, God’s presence depends on the Israelites living by the laws that have been given to them, and if they don’t follow in God’s ways, God will hide from them, and terrible things will happen. What would happen if people stopped looking for God and then stopped following the mitzvot altogether? It could lead to the breakdown of the beautiful society God worked so hard for the Israelites to build and maintain.

The concept of hide and seek goes beyond physically hiding. Whether you’re searching for a person or a solution to a problem, it’s the discovery that keeps us engaged. Without finding answers, without learning, we lose interest and life becomes chaotic and depressing. Without the interaction and mutual understanding to be in partnership, our entire relationship with God would fall apart. Parshat Vayelech is the reminder that our relationship with God is not static. It changes and grows based only on how we continue to seek and find holiness. and connect. In order to go, to move forward on our path in life it is essential not to be passive in looking for that which brings us meaning, but to engage, to look and to connect in any way we can. 

Conversations About the End – Parshiyot Nitzavim and Vayelech

Every night at bedtime, I tuck my kids in with a deep snuggle and we recite the same words “I love you forever and ever with my whole heart.” One evening, this prompted my daughter to ask me if her Papa loved her. She believes he did, even though he died before she was even an inkling in my mind. This led to a conversation (on a six-year-old level) about death, relationships, the lasting effects of love, and how “forever and ever” can be a feeling of love even when I’m not necessarily by her side. As you can see, our pillow talk is light and easy going! 

It isn’t easy to talk about death, especially when it involves thinking about our own or the possibility that loved ones might have to learn how to live without us. However, we learn in the Torah that not only are we obligated to try and face this reality, we must prepare for it.

This week we read Parshiyot Nitzavim and Vayelech, the two parshiyot that often surround the High Holy Days. Parshat Nitzavim reminds us that we always have a choice in life and that the proper path is to repent, to follow the rules, and to generally be good people. Parshat Vayelech teaches us about Moses’s process to transfer leadership to Joshua, and the final words he will share as the leader of the Israelite nation. The final words begin his goodbye to the people Israel.

These last few chapters are Moses’s way of letting the Israelite nation know that he won’t be with them forever, and they need to prepare for the time when he won’t be physically present. The last time Moses left the Israelites to go up the mountain for an extended absence, they were fearful and fraught. They broke the Commandments, created their own rules, and ended up in chaos. This time, Moses wants to ensure that the nation has the strength, faith, and guidance to move forward without issue.

Moses takes the time to share a plan of blessings and reminders to the people. He calls out the mourning they will feel and reminds them that while it would be easy to return to their “wicked ways,” it’s essential that they maintain faith and understanding in God’s protection. 

So too must we remind our loved ones that we will always love and support them. One way we do that is through tangible, concrete assurances like wills, trusts, and mementos like photos, videos and letters. Another way is by reminding our loved ones now that even once we’re not physically together, which may be painful at times, the love and connection will always be there.

Writing Your Ethical Will – Parshat Vayelech 5780


Passing down the life lessons I’ve learned to my children and loved ones is a unique challenge. Of all the things I want to share with those who come after me, sharing my thoughts on how to live life seems simultaneously deeply satisfying, yet extremely complicated. But as daunting as it is, I know how important it is.

It still upsets me that when my father died, he didn’t create an ethical will for me. He was my rock, my go-to person for problem solving. I longed for his voice. I sat at my computer for weeks writing down all the lessons he had taught me, and I came up with a list of 100 phrases, book titles, or statements from my memories of him that resonated with me. These 100 statements lived on my wall as I finished my graduate programs and on the desktop of every computer I’ve ever had. I pasted them below for your reference and enjoyment. When I’m having a rough day or I’m unsure of a decision, I turn to the list. At the very least it gives me a smile, and in the best moments it helps me to think through a problem just like we were sitting together. While I still wish my father had done the work of collecting these himself, my active role in creating this list has meant the world to me, and to this day when I’m teaching, I teach in his honor.

We’re nearing the end of the Torah, and Moses and God are trying to get in all their last “tidbits of love” for the Israelite nation. The end of the Torah is filled with poems and lessons learned, rules for remembering, and nostalgia for what once was. The name of the parshah, Vayelech, means “and he went.” The focus is on Moses going to the mountain and what his death will look like. And the lesson is what he taught the people and how he will be remembered. As we read Parshat Vayelech this week, we are reminded of how essential it is to be clear about what your values and morals are as the next generation takes over.

I purposefully wrote a slightly shorter d’var Torah this week so you could use the extra time to sit with a loved one and write down your vision and mission for life. Create something that will live on and go after you as a blessing.

Steven Posen’s Words of Wisdom

1. Always wake up with a smile 35. Acceptance 69. The whole shebang
2. Laugh good hard belly laughs 36. Since you were a little girl, parents check in on you always 70. Mourn the past, live in the present
3. I mean it Eviee, you gotta breathe 37. Overpacking isn’t good 71. Rabbi or plumber, there is a leak to fix
4. Take time on one word, one blessing 38. Growing up is hard 72. Shabbat is for resting
5. Tell people you love them 39. Being a grown-up is harder 73. Just throw your money out
6. Roots: know where you are from 40. Transitions are a part of life 74. Orange pants; wear your mistakes; bleach and black
7. Wings: fly to the world 41. Chronically intermittent 75. Backwards is better
8. Who moved my cheese 42. Chart it out 76. Slow down
9. Gung-ho 43. Indulge once in a while 77. Facilitate
10. For what it’s worth (FWIW) 44. Children are a blessing 78. Make your own decisions
11. Perfect pride in everything 45. Perseverance 79. A parent’s job is never done
12. Everything can be summed up in a bullet point 46. Singing in the shower is the best place to practice nusach 80. Compete with yourself; you are your best competitor
13. Dreams are attainable 47. Importance of a note card 81. Who are you; genetics
14. Nachos or nachas 48. Know your weaknesses 82. LOVE LIFE; celebrate it
15. Listen and hear 49. Grow your strengths 83. God’s hands
16. Learn to watch 50. Smell the green 84. Holy vessels; what we are
17. Space it out 51. Pick your battles 85. TRY IT
18. Door off the hinges; you loose 52. Sometimes it feels like gas; learning is hard, but always comes 86. Don’t separate from the community, embrace them
19. Stand up straight 53. Prioritize addiction 87. PROJECT YOURSELF
20. Aleinu length; modesty 54. Hold my hand 88. Career is not life
21. Love the one you’re with 55. Feeling like a dead duck 89. I’m always flying overhead
22. Parents can learn from children 56. Doing instead of learning, or vice versa 90. On your way, don’t know where
23. Forgiveness 57. Time is of the essence 91. Bless you
24. Love the little things 58. BE ON TIME 92. LIVE YOUR LIFE
25. Beauty of prayer 59. Always say THANK YOU 93. Share your opinion
26. Copyright your heart 60. Let it out 94. Give thanks daily
27. Challenges, not a sickness 61. GO BLUE!!! 95. Enhance yourself naturally
28. Pack it up and take it with you 62. Sometimes you fail 96. WHO YOU ARE is not where you are
29. Change is good 63. Own it: actions, words 97. Knowledge and wisdom are different
30. Fly higher than the plane 64. Savor it: life 98. Say it in a rhyme
31. It is O.K. to leave 65. Problem solving; frame of mind 99. Make it fun, they’ll come back
32. Betzelem elohim; we are all created in God’s image 66. Tradition: the way WE do it 100. KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU
33. Family is life 67. Use your words  
34. Fun is what YOU make it 68. Belief; trust in God  

Renewing Ourselves – Parshiyot Nitzavim and Vayelech 5778


*Next week I’ll be posting my Rosh Hashanah sermon, so this week I’ve included d’vrei Torah for the portions covering the next two weeks.

About a year after Matan was born, Duncan turned to me and said, “You know I love you now more than ever, but do you ever get the feeling these days that we’re more like roommates than husband and wife?” Never before were truer words spoken. It is so easy to get lost in the single-minded focus of the first year of a child’s life. Add to that one three-year-old, two crazy work schedules, and so much more, and we often ended up like two ships passing in the night. As we learned, unfortunately intimacy sometimes takes a backseat to necessary sleep, and a romantic anniversary lunch date can quickly turn into swapping calendars and talking about the kids instead of focusing on our relationship. A marriage, or any partnership that involves an intimate human connection and closeness, requires reaffirming the commitment. Commitment is not a one-time thing; it’s an active, ongoing process.

This applies not just to personal relationships, but to Torah and even to religion in general. Judaism as a faith is based on the relationships we maintain with one another, with text, and with God. Over the next two weeks we will read Parshat Nitzavim and Vayelech. These are the two parshiyot that often surround the High Holy days. Parshat Nitzavim reminds us of our free will in life and that the proper path is to repent, to follow the rules, and in general to be good people. Parshat Vayelech teaches us about Moshe’s process of transferring leadership to Joshua and the final words he will share as the leader of the Israelite nation.  

The text begins in Parshat Nitzavim that we should “enter into the covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is concluding with you this day with its sanctions.” This is interesting timing. Didn’t the Israelite nation already affirm their commitment to God’s mitzvot and to God when they stood at Sinai and agreed “na’aseh v’nishma”? “All that God has said we will do and we will understand.” Why are we now asked to enter into the covenant once more?

Shneur Zalman, the 18th century rabbi of Liyadi, views this relationship as an intimate marriage. He teaches, “Just as a husband and wife need to reaffirm their commitment to each other when the early days of romantic attraction have given way to the day-to-day struggle to overcome accumulated disappointments, so too God and the people Israel need to reaffirm the covenant at this later date.”  

Like new parents trying to maintain intimacy when daily life takes over, our relationship with God and with our faith community requires attention and intentionality in order to be maintained. These two parshiyot at the end of the Torah remind us that we are in need of constant work and engagement in order to find fulfillment in Judaism. What a perfect reminder in the new year that the text is there, the community is ready, and all it takes is intention.

New Year’s Reinventions


Susan Nanus entered rabbinical school when she was 54 years old. Now 67, Rabbi Nanus is a member of the clergy team at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, a thriving center of Jewish life (and of historical note, the first synagogue in Los Angeles). You might not have heard the name Susan Nanus before, but you might be familiar with the work she did in her previous career. In her late 20s, after graduating Yale Drama School, Susan started earning a living as a playwright and screenwriter. She went on to have a successful 30-year writing career, which included award-winning TV movies and plays on Broadway.

Throughout those decades of her first life, Susan was actively involved in the Jewish community, working part time in Jewish education. But it wasn’t until much later in life that Judaism inspired her to go in a completely new direction and reinvent herself as a rabbi.

I have transition and reinvention on my mind as we enter the High Holy Days. A new year brings with it an interesting mix of feelings. There’s the comfort of the yearly cycle, knowing we can expect familiar traditions, familiar change of seasons, and familiar annual events. At the same time, there’s a sense of rejuvenation that suggests anything is possible when we start fresh. How will you reinvent yourself in the new year?

This week we read Parshiyot Nitzavim and Vayelech, the two parshiyot that often surround the High Holy Days. Parshat Nitzavim reminds us that we are responsible for our choices in life and that the proper path is to follow the rules and be good people (and to repent when we’re not). Parshat Vayelech teaches us about Moshe’s process to transfer leadership to Joshua and the final words he will share as the leader of the Israelite nation. At the heart of these Torah portions is the transition – the reinvention – of Moshe from current leader to former leader.

In chapter 31, verse 2 of Deuteronomy we read, “I am now one hundred and twenty years old, I can no longer be active.” Although this transition may have been on his mind for quite some time, this is the moment when Moshe reveals that he is ready to help the change in leadership occur. It’s the kind of transfer of power we should aspire to; Moshe knows the time has come, and his acknowledgement of that sends a strong, levelheaded message. The self-awareness to understand when you’ve done all you can do means you’re putting the needs of your people ahead of your own. This is the model for leadership, and this is the model for transition.

It is challenging to let go, and yet even Moshe, who led the Israelites to redemption, was able to recognize when it was time to step down. Nitzavim and Vayelech remind us that change is necessary, but our High Holy Days remind us that change can be just the beginning. Shabbat shalom.