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Shoftim: Time Will Tell

This past Sunday, we went on a family outing to Oxnard, a seaside community about an hour away from our home. After a yummy fish-and-chips lunch, we rented an electric boat to take a ride out on the bay. My husband steered the boat and let both kids help. Our six-year-old son Jeremy was absolutely beside himself with glee at being able to operate the boat.

After dinner, we passed a fountain. Jeremy asked for a coin, threw it in, and wished he could drive a car, just as he did the boat. I told him that when he turns sixteen, he’ll be able to drive. He cheered, “Yeah! My dream will come true!”

This week’s Torah portion also addresses the realization of future predictions. As his leadership is about to conclude, Moses explains to the people that there will be successor prophets who speak in God’s name. Moses acknowledges that the people may wonder how to distinguish between true and false prophets. They may ask: How can we know if the words are from God? Moses explains that if the prophet speaks in the name of God but the statement doesn’t come true, then the statement wasn’t spoken by God. Rabbi Susan Fendrick explains Moses’ response as ‘Time will tell what is right for a holy community.’

In reading this passage, I was struck by the lack of time to assess the veracity of the prophets. Moses offered no deadlines. We often rush to judge whether an endeavor will bear fruit, but Moses’ words remind us that we can’t put artificial time tables on dreams.

In the Talmud, it is suggested that there are three things one should do in one’s life: have a child, plant a tree, and write a book. Why these three particular actions? These three activities have in common that they each take years to come to fruition. In all three actions, when you begin, you can’t possibly know how the end result will turn out, and you have to wait and see. Parenting, gardening and writing each present the same spiritual challenge. These projects require much patience, perseverance and hope.

This week begins the month of Elul, leading up to the High Holidays which begin a new year. In this month, we begin to take stock of how far we have (or haven’t) come since last year. Some of our wishes may have been realized this year, and others not. We may painfully realize that we still face the same spiritual struggles we did a year ago. We may feel pressure to make big decisions and upset when we’re unsure of the answers. Moses’ words encourage us to relax and have faith that time will reveal the best path.

In reflecting back on our outing, I was struck that Jeremy didn’t seem bothered by the fact that it would be another ten years before he could drive a car. He was just thrilled that his wish would eventually come true.

I trust that in ten years, Jeremy will indeed drive a car (God willing). Which of our dreams will also have come true by then? Only time will tell.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches biblical interpretation at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.

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