The Book of Deuteronomy begins with the first of several “sermons” delivered by Moses. It is time for the Israelites to move into the land that had been promised. It has been forty years of wandering. It is time for change. Moses too knows this. He knows his fate and you cannot read the book without some sense of melancholia. Moses needs to speak his truth, retell the story, knowing that his story is ending.
Moses speaks these words (d’varim) and tradition, as you know, has much to say about words; how they can be sweet or sting. Moses speaks these words after forty years and it is to that reality that I wish to look. As we all grow and, hopefully, mature, there is a hope that our own spiritual journey will mature. Akiba, the famous rabbi of tradition, we are told, discovered his truth at this age and for many of us, that decade of life brought transitions. I think we can take a lesson from this portion in that so many of us, as we matured, began to question the spiritual foundations of our youth. So many, even now, are spiritually empty, searching for some system of structure that can provide a sense of meaning as the reality of mortality dawns.
This portion asks us to begin our own life review. We realize that change is constant and that nothing stays the same. We begin to understand that the focus on the material in life is meaningless. But with what do we replace that drive for success, fame, power, influence? This week’s Haftorah speaks to that. We are old enough now to know that the real issues and rewards in life are not material, but spiritual, and that those rewards are to be found in engagement with people and not things.
Isaiah 1:11-16 warns us that sacrifices and rote observances mean nothing. Indeed, as we saw in the Haftorah to Pinchas, deeds of kindness are really the “stuff” of life. So, we read in Isaiah 1: 17: that we are called to “Learn to do good, devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow”.
This stage of life is about the spiritual. It is about giving back and seeking the truth of living our own uniqueness and speaking our own “words” in our own true voice.
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.