This week, it being after Tisha b'Av, leading up to Shabbat Nachamu, I think I'll take the easy way out and focus on what is easy for me to agree with. So here we go:
The parasha begins with chapter 7, verse 12 in the book of Devarim, and is pretty upbeat. If you (plural) do what God wants you (singular) to do, all will be good for you (singular, so I guess it means each and every one of you). But wait - does that mean that everyone must do the right thing for the individuals in the group to be OK?
And another thing - if God is the only God of the entire world, then I would expect a little compassion for those who do not acknowledge God. Instead, I read there will be complete destruction of those other people.
Let's continue with chapter 8. In verse 3 we are reminded that God provided manna, and while we are not positive what that was, there are some chefs these days who believe they know, and who are serving it in their restaurants! There are also those who believe it was bird poop, but the chefs' opinions are way more appetizing.
Verse 10 makes me smile - because it reminds me of a group of people sitting at the table after a meal and singing together as they thank God for their food. This time of year I particularly imagine the dining hall at a Jewish camp where this singing is loud and enthusiastic. Hooray for Jewish camping! I also like this commentary by Rabbi Ranon Teller which splits the three verbs (eat, be satisfied, and bless God) into three separate mitzvot - I like to think that God is actually commanding me to eat until I am full.
Moshe certainly takes the time to remind the people of everything he has done for them - particularly when God was angry with them.
And in chapter 11, verses 13 - 21, we have the text that has become the second paragraph of the Shma prayer as it has always appeared in traditional siddurim and which has been added in the newest Reform prayerbook. I have heard some people say this is their favorite prayer, because it makes it clear what they must do in order to be rewarded by God. Others are troubled by what they consider the simplistic lesson of the section, since it is obvious that not everyone who does what God wants has good outcomes. This is the fundamental challenge known as theodicy - the existence of evil in a world ruled by a God who is all-powerful and good. Rachel Barenblat, known as the Velveteen Rabbi, has a good treatment of this problem here at her blog.
The text mentions listening and hearing a number of times. I'm reading a book now, The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, in which the narrator is a dog - and the dog makes the comment that he is good at listening - in contrast to humans who hear every story as an opportunity to tell their own tales rather than really listening to what is being said. Perhaps there is some relationship to the passage "va-y'he im shamoa tish-m-u". Here is a commentary about listening from Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner.
Finally, (and even though I'm trying hard to make a connection it seems totally unrelated to anything in this parasha,) I would like to share an article by Rabbi Levi Cooper about cucumbers. It's that time of year, and cucumbers are very much on my mind (as they ripen incessantly in my garden).