So we begin, this Shabbat, with the final book of Torah, Deuteronomy. This summary of the Wilderness experience is told within the context of three farewell “sermons” delivered by Moses. Indeed, the very first line of the book shows us that these are the words of Moses. Now, this idea of words is not new to us. Indeed, every rabbi has preached on the idea of words and speech, gossip and “lashon ha-ra”. There are numerous Midrash about how what we say and how we say it can be compared to the Commandment of “you shall not commit murder”, in that we can “kill” someone by what and how we say words. In our day, that has been extended to how and what we say on social media. So the power of speech is part of the interpretations of this first line.
The summary of the Israelites travels and travails is the meat of this portion (and indeed much of the book). Yet, I was thinking about the portion and how it may relate to us and again, focused on the idea of words. In our JCC Torah class, we discussed some of this as I asked the group to consider what words they wished to use to describe the next phase of life. We all are at that stage when we can look back a little., We have all “been around the block” a bit and know that time is shorter now than what it was decades ago. So, what words would you use to describe how you wish to look at these next years?
Words like “value”, “kindness”, “creativity” and “purpose” came to be discussed. I mention this because I think that Deuteronomy is a great book to remind us that we have the power to choose how we will live our life, no matter what age we are. What these students were also saying is that everyone needs a sense of meaning, or purpose in the years ahead. Each of us, if we are granted the gift of time, may have to deal with issues that change how we live. Health issues or family issues often impact us as we get older. It is a challenge to maintain a sense of future. Yet, this portion may be telling us that how we choose to describe or see the years ahead rests with us. So, as we begin this new book, what word or words would you choose to describe how you wish to live? An interesting challenge and conversation.
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.