This week’s portion, which begins at the end of chapter 3 of Deuteronomy, presnts us with a host of issues, not the least of which is the recitation in chapter 5 of the 10 Commandments and likewise, “Sh’ma”,(6:4). As you can imagine, books and articles galore have been written on these verses. So, let me look with you at the very beginning of the portion and the title word, “v’etchanen”. This sparked a lively hour and a half conversation at a local JCC this week in a Torah study class I teach. We discussed a variety of translations of this word, all carrrying the sense of pleading, begging, imploring. Moses wants to fulfill his mission and go into Canaan. He cannot. Like a child pleading with his parent, these few opening verses illicit in the reader the sympathy we have for Moses. He has struggled to lead and now, because of a mis-step, will be denied that final sense of completion.
How symbolic? I mean, how many of us struggle to accomplish something, only to know that we will be denied seeing its’ fruition? Maybe this has nothing to do with the material world? Maybe there is another way of looking at this portion. Maybe, we can see that all of us are a Moses. We struggle to accomplish things in life, only to know that we are finite creatures and that some of what we wish for may never come to be. Perhaps that is why, as we get a little older, we become more interested in not what we will do, but what we will leave behind.
Maybe, in some small way, what Moses is pleading for is that he not be forgotten. After all, he knows his life is mostly lived. Joshua has been handed the mantle of leadership. A new generation, not of slavery but of the Wilderness, has been born. The future is theirs! But what of Moses? Maybe this pleading to God is really a plea to his people and their future that he not be forgotten. We are never truly gone, as one scholar wrote, until there is no one left who says “Kaddish” for us. There is reality in these opening few verses. The portion goes on to great moments, but this beginning, this plea by Moses, may be seen as a plea to the future. His farewell sermons–that comprise Deuteronomy–may be all about him saying to himself, his God and his people, “look what we have been through, look what we have done, please remember me, remember us, rememebr our journey”.
So it is with us. We reflect on what we have lived, look forward to whatever life we have remaining, and pray/plead that what we have lived and done not be forgotten by those whose future we cannot know.
Rabbi Richard Address