Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Devarim
“Aelu devarim … These are the words …” We begin a new book of the Torah: Deuteronomy. In Hebrew, the name is “Devarim,” drawn from the first significant word in the text. Devarim means “words” or “things.”
Moses begins the last book of the Torah by recounting the Torah story. He is about to leave the people, as God will not allow him to cross the Jordan River and enter the “Land.” As per tradition, the book that follows is the words he spoke before leaving the people to live out his days with God. He is frustrated with the people, as he holds their insecurity and lack of faith responsible for his inability to enter the land “Flowing with milk and honey”: Israel. He will spend the whole book, admonishing them to grow in faith.
His mission is urgent. He has but a short time and has so much to share. Moses speaks eloquently in this book. It is hard to remember that, as he stood before God at the burning bush, he was slow of speech and stuttered.
Maimonides makes the point that this comparison cannot work; are two different scenarios. Standing before God, Moses was unsure of his abilities. How did he merit speaking with divinity? In Deuteronomy, he was speaking before the people. According to the sage, one’s sense of standing determines the voice with which one speaks.
While I understand that he hoped to differentiate talking to God and talking to people (an oversimplification of his commentary), I have to wonder why we would ever accept giving less dignity to a child of God than we give to divinity, itself. Perhaps this separation is the cause of so much hostility. If we treated everyone as a child of God, we could bring peace. We would not have to agree. We would have to respect each other and realize that our inability to hear each other is more from a lack of understanding than whether the speaker is right or wrong.
No, I read it differently. Given the texts are most likely from two different authors, but still, our tradition teaches that a text’s value comes from different places than its literal origin. When I juxtapose the two textual scenarios, I see Moses’ growth, as he learned of his ability to stand up for justice and face adversity. Throughout the Biblical text, God tries Moses, the people try him, Pharaoh does so, and his family does, as well. Time after time, he comes back from adversity more robust than before.
Moses did not cave. He never quit. Even when personally attacked, our leader responded by asking for God’s grace, even for the offender. Atop Sinai, he saw the burning bush and stammered before God. Post exodus, atop Sinai, he literally got in God’s face and talked God off of the ledge of destruction. His faith grew as his advocacy grew. His sense of self-worth and security grew, as well. He earned his place with God.
When we stand tall; when we act; when we believe in our hearts that our cause is to heal and respect; when we see that our commitment results in blessings – we grow. We start afraid and insecure, but if we believe, as our integrity and sense of accomplishment grow, our voice steadies, and we stand more securely. In these moments, we reach inside, feel our soul’s heartbeat, and know with full conviction that we can create miracles in each other’s lives.
Moses is us. Each of us stands before God, and before each other. Our task is to live with unbridled love and unqualified integrity. No, we are not there yet, but if we do not strive to create shlaemoot (wholeness), we missed the point of prayer, love, and valuable relationships. We can always be more tomorrow than we are today. We have to believe in our hearts that we are here to serve and celebrate, advocate, and ensure accountability – and all at the same time.