We begin this Shabbat with the Book of Deuteronomy and the opening verse which tells us that “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel” (1:1)
Moses proceeds to speak three long sermons that review the wandering and wilderness experience. The commentary “Etz Hayim” sees the irony in this when it mentions that “Moses began his career by pleading that he was not ‘a man of words’. After 40 years of teaching Torah, however, he has become an eloquent man of words” (p. 981). Rabbi David Wolpe , in a blog in July 27, 2017 Mosaic e-magazine, also reminds us that “Unlike the words in the other four books, which are presumed to be the words of God as conveyed through Moses, Deuteronomy consists explicitly of the words of the prophet himself”. The commentaries and commentators also discuss the fact that Moses repeats some of the historical aspects of the wilderness and, in doing so, seems to change what took place. Was it Moses’s memory that was playing tricks on him as he aged?
The comments on the opening of the book stress the fact that these words are those of Moses and not God. Why the emphasis? In thinking about this it seemed to me to be quite reflective of what happens to many of us as get older. Moses knows he is nearing the end of his life. His sermons in Deuteronomy, in many ways, can be seen as a long ethical will, a coda to his career and a message to the next generation. Indeed, some of the passages in the book do reflect ways and means of living in this new land. But think about people we know as they reach a certain age. They may be retired, or close to it. The acquisition of material goods may now cease to be the ground of being. Gradually the reality of mortality dawns.
So,finally we have the courage to speak our truth. We finally have the presence to speak the words of our heart, not only the words of our mind. This may be for us a time in life when we achieve that sense of self-awareness and self-confidence or peace within our own soul. e have lived a majority of our life and we have learned, from experience, the truth of our own self. It is in that space that many find their own voice, maybe for the first time in their lives. For some, finding that personal voice is a matter of time and life experience, much like it was with Moses. Yet, the bottom line is that Moses speaks HIS words, from his heart. That is a goal for all of us. As we begin Deuteronomy, let us have the courage to be able to speak our words, from our heart.
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.