Deuteronomy 1:1 -3:22
This week we begin reading the last book of the Torah, Deuteronomy. Moses begins to retell the story of the Children of Israel. He recounts the journey from Egypt to the eastern shore of the Jordan River. This is the beginning of his final speech to the people, to this group that he has ushered through so many experiences.
God has already told Moses that he will not be able to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. He will not complete the journey but he will accompany the Israelites to the edge and then on Mt. Nebo he will be gathered into God’s embrace and will die there.
But the group that he addresses now is not the group that left Egypt. Our portion tells us that the Children of Israel dwelt 38 years by Kadesh –Barnea which was time for the generation who refused to go up to the Promised Land after the report of the spies (See P arshat Shelach –Lecha in the book of Numbers) to die out. “Thus after you remained at Kadesh all that long time…” (Deut 1:46), Moses says to this people. Who are the people he is addressing? These are actually the children of the generation who left Egypt, the children of those who left slavery. The people Moses is addressing are the children born in the intervening 38 years who have grown up in the wilderness. The opening chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy could be seen as a history lesson for the descendants of the slaves. He is like a grandfather telling the grandchildren family stories, sharing memories of tales of years gone by. These stories will become the shared memories and shared narrative of the next generations.
We Jews do this all the time. Our Passover Seder experience is a retelling and reinactmentof our history so that it becomes ours. Our study of our Torah itself, each weekly reading, is for the story of our ancestors to become our story and our journey. As our tradition teaches, “Bechol Dor vador chayav adam lirot et atzmo k’eilu hu yatzah mimitzrayim. In every generation each person is to imagine that he or she went forth from Egypt.”
And so Moses now wants to shape this new generation who will enter the Promised Land and remind them of our traditions, laws and our story-their story, their parents’ story. His last speech will be filled over the next weeks with a recounting of the journey from slavery to the edge of the Promised Land. He will repeat the Commandments and try to inform this generation of the glory of the Holy One as revealed to the generation of their parents. Moses will help this generation who will settle in the Land of Israel and help fulfill the covenantal promise made to Abraham see themselves as a link in this ancient chain.
Today take a moment to think about how your own personal story intersects the story of the Jewish people! Where are you on that continuum? And imagine that you too are the link in the chain of tradition – because you are!