Deuteronomy 32 contains a long poem/song that forms the basis of this week’s portion. Moses is concluding his farewell sermon. We are at the next to last portion of Deuteronomy. We are at the cusp of the High Holidays. So much to handle. The passage outlines again some history and glorifies God as “the Rock”, whose “deeds are perfect”. God’s ways are “just, A faithful God, never false, True and upright is God” (32:4)
Commentaries abound on this passage, indeed on the entire portion. We are reminded to remember history and to consult with our elders to learn the value of our past. No doubt, many of us will be with family and maybe grandchildren over these Holidays. Conversations will develop about current events and the state of the world. No doubt sermons will be preached on these same issues. The debate, as old as the texts, will ensue as to how could so much evil in the world be tolerated by a supposed loving God? Just as assuredly, many of us elders will smile knowingly and remind those who ask that “God” has nothing to do with it, rather it is the province of mankind that creates the evil that we have seen, are seeing and will see.
Rabbi Jonathan Saks, in his “Essays on Ethics”, writes of this portion and reminds us: “It is humans, granted free will as God’s image and likeness, who introduce evil into the world and then suffers its consequences. Hence, Moses’ insistence that when trouble and tragedy appear, we should search for the cause within ourselves and not blame God.” (p.331).
Here is a fundamental message for us, regardless of age. In the end, the creation of a world based on justice rests with us. I sense that this message will be a major theme throughout these Holidays. Even on this Shabbat, the Shabbat between Rosh Hoshonnah and Yom Kippur which is known as Shabbat Shuvah (Sabbath of Repentance); we will be reminded that how and what we choose to do with our life and world will determine what results emerge.
This is both liberating and frightening. We cherish freedom and free will. Yet, with it comes unbelievable responsibility to act. Many of us are old enough to reflect upon these past several decades and remember how injustices were changed by the deeds of mankind. Likewise, how much evil was allowed to exist because no one stood up.
As the new year slowly dawns, this portion reminds us that change, progress, justice and equality are in our hands.
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.