A rosy Cellcom ad; a depressing response
Preparing for Tisha b'Av

This week's portion: record


Some family stories
told and retold
wear a groove in the heart

lift the swing-arm
place the needle
and the words roll again

every time it plays
we learn more deeply
how things went, that time

when he left her
by the side of the road
by accident

or when she hurt
their feelings
and they never forgot

what if the record
wore itself thin
and couldn't be played?

would we invent
a new story, without
our old missteps?

In this week's portion, Dvarim, the first portion in the book of Dvarim (known in English as Deuteronomy), Moshe begins to recap for the Israelites everything that's transpired since they left Egypt forty years ago. They're encamped on the far side of the Jordan, on the verge of crossing over into the promised land.

The story that Moshe tells reads at times like a greatest-hits list, chronicling all of the ways in which God has taken care of the children of Israel -- and at other times like a litany of the Israelites' worst mistakes. Reading it this week, I'm reminded of how families have stories which we tell and retell. The stories don't change much from one telling to the next, and after a while the repeated story becomes the official memory even for those who weren't present when the events in question unfolded. The stories in Tanakh are our tribal family stories, which shape us just as surely as our nuclear family stories do.

I find myself wondering: what would happen if we could disentangle ourselves from these stories the way we've always told and heard them? Could we open ourselves to the possibility of a new narrative -- for our family, for our community, for ourselves? As we stand on the cusp of crossing over into a new chapter of our lives, which stories do we want to keep telling about who we have been, and which stories might we want to discard?


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