The opening portion for the book of Deuteronomy is one that presents us with many issues. Moses begins his farewell sermons; a recapitulation of the journey from slavery to the edge of Canaan. He knows he will not live to see the fulfiullment of the promise. He re-tells the Israelite story with the challenges and fits and starts. In many verses Moses pulls no punches as he reminds the people of how much they strayed from God’s path. This is a Moses that, in his elder-hood, is filled with passion, some anger, but the confidence to speak his mind. What a difference from the Moses who, at the Burning Bush, rejected God’s call as he was slow of speech. (Exodus 4:10). It is no surprise that commentaries looked at this transformation. Indeed, Deuteronomy begins with “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel…” (1:1) It is not God speaking to Moses saying tell the people, but Moses himself.
The thought occured to me as I looked at this as to how this plays out on so many levels in our lives. We, when youner, may have lacked the confidence to speak our mind, to answer the call of our ownn soul. Yet, as life unfolded, as the real worl of experience met us, it forced us to make choices. Often, the living of life helped shape and mold us and allowed us to achieve a level of confidence and self-actualization that was never possible when we were younger. We learned to listen to good advice, make mistakes and value real relationships. We learned to understand that the choices we made helped shape who we are at this stage of our life. We became, as this portion alludes to, our own Moses. Think about who you were as you left high school or college and who you are now. How different? How much more confident? How much more comfortable “in your own skin”?
The words that Moses spoke (and will speak throughout the book) emerge from his own unique experience and his ability to not fear to speak them. Does he, in these opening verses speak for him and not God? Has Moses been freed of having to rely on God’s words? He becomes his own man as his life ebbs. How like him are so many of us? Do we reach a point when we have the courage to speak our own conscience and not worry about what others may think or do or say? Perhaps we need to look again at Moses in this day and age and study the ability to speak our truth. Life forges this in each of us if we but choose to listen. “These are the words that Moses spoke” What words do we choose to speak today?
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.