So, we come to this very interesting Torah portion. The poem/song that Moses speaks as the reality of the ending of his life becomes all too real. These 52 verses say so much. There is great imagery here. Look at the very beginning as Moses asks that his words, spoke to the Israelites, “come down as dew..like showers on young growth”, as if to say that the slow rain is of greater benefit than a sudden shower. Is he saying that words of comfort and kindness may have greater impact on a situation that anger and outbursts? Moses reminds us in verse 7 to “Remember the days of old” and that elders can be of great importance in unpacking issues. An important message for our youth-oriented ageist world.
The poem recounts the agony and frustration of Israel’s journey and relationship with God. Moses vents his frustration at the Israelites failure to follow God’s ways. He even seems to quote God in 19ff as to God’s anger at the fact that His people had strayed. A challenge in the poem, as Rabbi Plaut points out in his essay found in his Torah commentary (p 1564) is that despite God’s promise to exact revenge on this people, God still holds out to His people hope. Is God afraid that if He does exact true revenge, that the other nations (Gods) will mock Him? (27)
But there is another issue that needs to be discussed here. This Shabbat is Shabbat “Tshuvah. This is the Sabbath of Repentance, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Special prayers are read at worship that speak to this idea of repentance and forgiveness. But where is the forgiveness in the poem? At the end of the chapter (48ff) God calls to Moses and reminds him that he, like Aaron, will die. The reason? Verse 51 “for you both broke faith with Me among the Israelite people, at the waters of Meribath-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, by failing to uphold My sanctity among the Israelite people”.
In this season of forgiveness, where is God’s?
Shabbat shalom and G’mar Tov
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.