This Shabbat we reach the beginning of the last book of Torah. Deuteronomy is a repetition of the Wilderness experience told through a series of sermons in the mouth of Moses. The book, according the Biblical history, was a discovery of King Josiah in about 621 BCE and the basis for his religious reformation. (see II Kings 22 and 23) An interesting story that brings a historical and political basis for the book. But for us now, I want to look at the physical context of the portion.
The Israelites are camped at the border. They are paused to cross in to Canaan. They are at the border. A liminal space between what was and what may be. They know there will be conflict as they cross. They have only faith to guide them. Think about this scene and out own life today. Borders and boundaries. What holds us? Physical boundaries and borders have so often been temporal. They are or have been decided by Councils, treaties, wars and even negotiations. They have been (and remain) temporal. But what about the borders that hold us? Covid has placed us in a situation not unlike our portion. We know we will never go back to what was. We seem stuck in the what “is”, but also know that we cannot stay here. But what of the next step? What shall we do, how shall life be different in this unknown future? And will we all live to see it?
And this new border that we sit at has profound psycho-spiritual challenges. Has this situation allowed us to become prisoners of our own fear? So much anxiety is around us, so much fear of the unknown. Where is faith? Where is the future? How can I have the strength to “cross over” this river of anxiety and fear to a new future? SO many of our generation, bombarded by media hype as to the dangers of even going outside (hype based on much reality) are becoming, in a sense, trapped in a self evolving boundary of isolation. The present time calls on us to remember that we have some control over the boundaries and borders that we set for our self. We do have the ability to change our context, even in these sheltering in place moments. All of us now know people who have made the choice to develop new skills, social interactions and learning opportunities. They have moved the boundaries of their own isolation out of deep personal need. The need to connect–even electronically–is helping to re-shape the boundaries of space and time. No one believes that this is easy. Tearing down borders and establishing new ones is never easy, be they physical ones or psycho-spiritual ones. It takes real committment, strength, and faith. Yet, these moments are calling on us to do just that. And, as with much of life, the choices rest with us.
Rabbi Richard F Address