In what many scholars, Robert Adler included, have observed, The Book of Deuteronomy (Devarim) is “…the most sustained deployment of rhetoric in the Torah”. If you go back to a previous article I wrote about the Book of Numbers, I framed this year’s study of the Book of Numbers (B’midbar) as a book containing a suite of literary admonishments, designed to guide the reader toward an “improved” moral and ethical standard of life and living. Within the word “B’midbar” you can see the word “D-V-R” which is the root for the word “to speak”. In Hebrew, the Book of Deuteronomy is headed by the first significant word in the entire book “D’varim”. Looking at the Hebrew, you will find that the shoresh (root) is the same as my proposed root in the Book of Numbers, “D-V-R”. D’varim, by virtue of its root association, sets the tone for a series of speeches, declaratives, sermons and, finally a eulogy.
The rhetorical style used in D’varim is intended to be persuasive in its intent, as if the Israelites needed any more persuasion of the power of The Almighty and the mortal surrogates. As it turns out, D’varim is reminding us that, indeed, the Israelites still needed persuasion, just as we do today, to be a kinder, empathetic, understanding, educated, and ethical participant in the exercise of civil discourse. The tone of some of the narratives may appear desperate as Moses is facing his own mortality and attempting to wrap up his tenure as leader. This seems like a natural human progression as, today, many face professional and personal transitions wondering if the next phase will be as stimulating, productive and directional as past life phases. Not much, in life, is more unsettling than facing a wilderness of irrelevance. I suppose the final blessing for Moses may be that he will not be the “Leader Emeritus” for the Israelites and his legacy would have to rely entirely on a fragile parchment and its 79,077 words. So far, that legacy has been sustained, but for how much longer? I guess future generations will have to decide.
This week’s Parasha is of the same name as the title of the Book (D’varim). As we study chapter 1:1 through 3:22, we see that the Israelites feel prepared to enter Canaan. Moses begins to recap the events of Israeli’s path from Egypt to the precipice to their Promised Land. Either the Israelites have become a polity too large for him to manage, or he has lost a step at his advanced age. Whatever the reason, Moses created a system of tribal chiefs to function as administrators and judges. Moses would only intervene in the most challenging of scenarios.
Moses instructs the Israelites to charge right in and take the land that was promised them, but the subordinate leaders chose to deploy spies to assess the strategy. Though the incoming report was favorable for a positive outcome, the Israelites continued to hesitate. The Torah reports that The Almighty was not only frustrated with the People, but with Moses and denied them the opportunity to enter in the land. Ashamed at this response, the Israelites attempted to make amends for their hesitancy but it was too late. The dye had been cast and they were beaten back by the Amorites.
Stepping back to assess the damage and study their next moves, the Israelites heard Moses retelling the actions, events and outcomes that got them to the place that they currently occupied. The narrative continues with the Israelites preparing, once again, to enter the Promised Land and this time they defeated the Amorites and the Bashanites. This section concludes with the naming of Joshua as Moses’ successor.
Have you ever been oh so close to achieving something significant in your life or nearing the closure of a major transaction only to find that your actions leading up to finalization derailed the whole effort?
When the Israelites were faced with a decision to either advance or abstain, they listened to their inner voices and were tentative. They showed that faint heartedness conviction was more a result of their lack of perceived preparedness than of a realization that their resources were statistically superior. They needed time to look at themselves and to choose their time to act. Making a best decision is complicated regardless of the magnitude. Many decisions require us to just relax, trust ourselves and cast those dice across the table. And, whatever the outcome, we need to at least have an answer on which we may build a future; a future maybe not as we have either designed or anticipated, but a future based upon a foundation we built on every preceding effort and experience.
Trust your process, have faith in the efforts and experiences that have guided you to this day. Look around and be thankful for today and embrace it as a springboard to tomorrow. You are here for a reason, even if you have no idea what the reason is. And maybe that’s just the way it’s supposed to be. An old friend used to greet me by asking me what the meaning of life is. I simply told him that, “life is a gift that should not be over-analyzed. Doing so questions the intentions of the giver”. Just be grateful for this life, hold it close, nurture it and do your best to sustain it through its natural course. I believe Moses was allowed to talk about his life allowing him to walk a natural path to eternity, and so his life was ensured to be that of a blessing. May the words you speak and the actions you take this year allow you to walk a natural path toward a fulfilling and successful year ahead.
Cantor-Rabbi Ron Eichaker serves United Hebrew Congregation and is a police chaplain. He is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.