This Shabbat we begin the final book of Torah. Deuteronomy is a grand summary of the Israelites sojourn, both physcially and spiritually. Moses, in a series of discourses, recounts the Sinai experience, and does so in the context of a theological framework which reminds his people that to follow God’s ways will yield blessing and to deviate from those paths, will yield curse. There is a rich history contained within this book. Biblical historians point to its “discovery” associated with an attempted religious reformation sponsored by King Josiah at about 621 BCE. The “discovery” of this book, detailed in 2 Kings 18, formed, according to scholars, the basis for this attempted reformation of Judean life, a reformation that sought to end idolotrous practices and place more emphasis on Jerusalem.
History aside, there is another interesting “take” on these opening chapters. Moses brings the people together. He has completed the major part of his calling. He and the people stand on the cusp on entering Canaan. He knows he will not enter this land. He delivers these major speeches (sermons?) as a farewell oration. It is, in a sense, his farewell to his people (remember, at the end of the book, Moses dies).
The symbolism here is quite real for us. I suggest that many of us, when we come to grips with the reality of our own mortality, try to re-assess our life. We look back a bit and try and see the lessons, the stops and starts of our journey (see last week’s “drash”). I have seen and met many people in my career who, at a certain age (never the same), re-evaluate life. What seemed SO important, may pale in comparison to new realities. There is a shift from material concerns to relational concerns. We start thinking of our legacy, of what we wish to leave behind to our children and granchildren. I am not thinking of material things, rather, what values, ideas and lessons, drawn from our own experience, do we wish to leave as our legacy. Perhaps this truth is a reason why there has been an increase, in recent years, in congregations and facilities, of “life review” sessions or, for many of us, classes that discuss the writing of an “ethical will”.
It is not easy to consider one’s own end. Yet, it is a blessing to be able to consider what lessons we have learned in our own journey and to have the ability to pass them on to those we love.
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.