Devarim: Reflecting on Life’s “Encampments”.

Moses stands on the cusp of the Promised Land as the book of Deuteronomy opens. He knows he cannot go into his people’s future (much like us). So, as the book begins, he begins the first of his three discourses that refelct upon the journey of the Israelites. This begins Deuteronomy, one of the most powerful and sweeping of our Biblical books. Commentators from all perspectives have noted the symbolism of this moment. Moses is aging. His successor has been chosen. He has led his people through forty years of frustration and hope. So he begins, what, to may, is his own “life review”. Couched in terms of legal and behavioral texts, Moses really begins to deliver a sort of communal “ethical will”. In mnay ways, we are all Moses, trying to make sense of our own life journey, realizing that, despite all our wishes, we are finite. So, like Moses, we try and send a message to those who will follow.
What Moses is drawing on is his own wealth of life experience. The text, in 1:13, speaks of the challenge to find people of wisdom to assist in the Israelite’s journey. The tradition often speaks to this, asking who is wise and how does one acquire wisdom.(“chochmah”) The Mishna says that one who is wise “learns from everyone”. I think that as we reflect on our own journey, we understand the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom seems to be an on-going enterprise. We acquire it by living and being open to experiencing life and learning from those experiences. As we Boomers age, we can, and do reflect on all the experiences we have encountered. The places we have “camped” in life, to channel the Wilderness experience. We can reflect on things now and react differently now because, as it happens, we have “been there before”. The ability to remember. reflect, refine, helps change how we react to life. It also makes our own life experience what I call “spiritual capital” that can be drawn on to help younger people navigate their own journey. In truth, one of the challenges to our contemporray synagogue world is the lack of programs and attitudes that make use of this vast often untapped reservoir of spiritual capital that exists within most of our congregation.
Our search for wisdom, in its myriad of expressions, is a life long goal.Our Tradition reminds us that we shall be happy if we find wisdom. Indeed, “her ways are ways of pleasantness, all her paths are peaceful.She is a tree of life to those who grasp her and whoever holds on to her is happy. (Proverbs 3:17.18)
Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Richard Address

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