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Parashat D'varim: Not Yet

As you may know, I spend some time hanging out with a 1 year old - my son, Lior. He’s excellent company, of course, cheerful, fun-loving, and full of energy. He does have a habit that I hear is pretty common among his age demographic. His favorite word is No.

Now I’ve heard it’s easier for babies at that stage of development to shake their heads No than to shake them Yes - at least he’s expressing his opinions!!

No is sometimes necessary. No, not, non - these are all ways to distinguish and define. 

While there is a time and a place for no and not, even for those older than age 1, I’d like to invite us to consider another framework. 

I recently heard a talk from psychologist Carol Dweck, who pioneered the concept of a growth mindset. She shares:

“I heard about a high school in Chicago where students had to pass a certain number of courses to graduate, and if they didn't pass a course, they got the grade not yet. And I thought that was fantastic because if you get a failing grade, you think, I'm nothing, I'm nowhere. But if you get the grade not yet, you understand that you're on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.”

Not yet. 

Listen to the opportunity afforded to those students because of the words “not yet.”

Not yet is open-ended.

Not yet looks toward the future.

Not yet is inviting.

This week’s Torah portion lives in the Not Yet. We are in D’varim, the first portion in the book of Deuteronomy, the final book of the Torah. 

Last week, we concluded the book of Numbers, poised to enter the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the desert. The older generation is making way for a new generation of leaders. 

We end the book of Numbers - and we do not immediately cross into the Promised Land. The entire book of Deuteronomy is a series of speeches by Moses, recounting our experiences in desert. He reflects on his life, our journey, and the relationship between the people and God. Standing me’ever hayarden, on the opposite shore of the Jordan River, peering into Israel, we are in the land of Not Yet.

Not Yet can be limbo and can be uncomfortable. Yet - as Dweck explains, not yet can be open-ended, creating room for future learning and possibilities. She teaches:

We recently teamed up with game scientists from the University of Washington to create a new online math game. In this game, students were rewarded for effort, strategy and progress. The usual math game rewards you for getting answers right, right now. And we got more effort, more engagement over longer periods of time and more perseverance when they hit really, really hard problems. Just the words yet or not yet…give kids greater confidence.”

Not yet looks toward the future. For all you grammarians out there, I consulted the Cambridge Dictionary of usage and learned the following: 
When we use yet in negative statements, it shows that an event is expected to happen in the future:
For example, Jason hasn’t phoned yet. (That is, I am expecting him to phone.)
Not yet creates the space for a hope for the future, a dream of something yet to be.

One of Israel’s foremost songwriters of all-time, Naomi Shemer, understood this. In her popular song, Od lo ahavti dai, she sings,
Od lo shatalti deshe, od lo hekamti ir,
Od lo natati kerem al kol giv'ot ha gir
Od lo ha kol asiti mamash bemo yadai
Od lo hakol nisiti, od lo ahavti dai.

I have not yet planted a lawn of grass,
I have not yet raised up a city
I have not yet planted a vineyard 
I have not yet done everything that I could with my own hands
I have not yet tried everything
I have not yet loved enough.

From small goals to lofty aspirations, od lo - not yet - allows us to dream.

Not yet is inviting.

This past week, I was on the Norman Rockwell Museum’s webpage. As I looked through their upcoming events, I saw something striking. As with many organizations, including our own, there were two fee levels to participate in an upcoming lecture - member, and not-yet-member.

Not-Yet-Member. Everyone is invited. Everyone is welcome. 

I encourage us to adopt this language of members and not yet members for our Temple family. We see so many faces, particularly over the summer. Some may be interested in attending one program or service. Everyone has the potential to do more and connect more. 

To all of our not-yet-members here tonight, welcome. Thank you for walking in the door. Thank you for opening the door. To all of our members, thank you for being welcoming, and for embracing Not Yet.

Fri, December 13 2019 15 Kislev 5780