This is the law Moses set before the Israelites. Deuteronomy 4:44
The Torah portion for this week is Va'etchanan, which means "I pleaded," from Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 40:1-26.
A story is told about a rabbi who lived in Manhattan's Lower East Side in the early 1900s. Let me remind you that the Jewish people living in New York City at that time were mostly poor immigrants, many of whom had fled their homes to escape persecution in Europe. Anyhow, there was a city function that the rabbi attended and a notoriously anti-Semitic clergyman was also present. The clergyman's religion and denomination are not important for our purposes. True men of God do not hate or belittle others for no reason.
The clergyman wasted no time in speaking badly about the Jewish people. He turned to the rabbi and said, "I had a dream last night that I was in Jewish heaven." Intrigued, the rabbi asked, "And what is it like in Jewish heaven?" The clergyman responded, "The streets were filled with dirty children playing in the mud. The women were haggling with fish vendors and beggars tried to interrupt, asking for handouts. The clotheslines stretched across the roads, dripping and adding to the mess below. And of course, rabbis were seen running around with large Talmudic volumes under their arms."
The rabbi thought for a moment and said, "That's funny because last night I dreamt of your heaven." To that the clergyman asked, "What's it like in my heaven?" The rabbi responded, "It is magnificent. The streets shine, the beautiful homes are exquisitely lined up in perfect symmetry, each with a small garden that has beautiful flowers and a perfectly manicured lawn." The clergyman beamed, "And tell me about the people there!" The rabbi smiled and said, "People? There were no people!"
The message of the story is that in a perfect world there couldn't possibly be any people, because human beings by their very nature are flawed. If God wanted perfection, He could have made us all angels. But God wanted people, imperfections and all, and He gave us the Bible so that we might improve upon ourselves and grow close to Him.
This theme is echoed in our reading. Just after Moses spoke about the cities of refuge for those who kill others accidentally, the Bible says, "This is the law Moses set before the Israelites." The Jewish sages note that the proximity of this verse to the laws of the accidental murderer allude to the fact that God gave the Torah to imperfect people - and He did so on purpose.
I want to encourage us all to never feel diminished by our imperfections. In fact, what makes us human is also what gives us the capacity to have a relationship with God. Life isn't perfect and neither are we - rather we are wondrous children of God becoming the best that we can be.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President