Of the known and not known

Rabbi James Stone Goodman

By Rabbi James Stone Goodman

Moses spoke to his successor, Joshua, and told him a couple of things, but what I remember most is the phrase “be strong and courageous.” I loved it when our teacher talked courage.

Moses told Joshua not to be afraid, that G*d would accompany us, that G*d would not have brought us this far to let us go on alone.

Then he sat down and wrote the teachings. He wrote the entire document so we would have something for sure to teach and tell the future.

When he was done G*d began to speak with him: 

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“Your days are drawing near to die. Go get your successor and stand him in the Tent of Meeting. I’ll give him final instructions.”

They stood in the Tent of Meeting, and G*d appeared in a pillar of cloud, so I didn’t catch everything. A pillar of cloud: The future was purposefully concealed in uncertainty. 

But what I heard was difficult. It was about what we would forget and how someone would have to remind us now and again what we are all about.

What we are all about. I heard that several times, followed by silence and a moment to let it sink in.

So he wrote out the teachings, then he made up a song. He taught us the song that day. It was a song, or a poem – the word is the same in our language – and some of it was heard and known, and some of it remains secret and not known.

There is a known song and a secret song, a known poem and a secret poem; one is flesh and form, the other bone and spirit.

Note: I recorded the Torah with a poem and a maqam corresponding to each portion, with a group of cracker-jack musicians in New York City. Maqam is a Middle Eastern musical form that accompanies each portion. You can hear-see Vayelech at www.themaqamproject.com, pull down the Debarim menu.

Rabbi James Stone Goodman serves Central Reform Congregation and leads the Shalvah recovery group and No Shanda, a mental health support group. He is a former president of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.