The upside to this week’s Torah portion is Moses’ continued sermon reiterating the commandments Hashem has revealed to the Jewish people. Va’etchanan reminds us to never add or subtract from the Torah, never bow to other gods, the Big Ten are repeated, and the importance of marrying other Jews is stressed. Deuteronomy or Devarim is a book whose biggest contribution, in my opinion, is presenting all of the commandments given throughout the Torah in one book. For the ancient Hebrews this is Moses’ way of reminding a people who can generally be assumed as largely illiterate Hashem’s divine commandments, for the current day Jew Deuteronomy makes everything easy to find and convenient. Talk about a timeless win win.
For every upside there is undoubtedly a downside and Va’etchanan has a downside of biblical proportions (pun intended). This week’s portion translates as “and I pleaded.” Moses and the ancient Hebrews are encamped along the Jordon ready to cross and claim the Promised Land as their own but Moses will never set foot on the other side of the Jordon. As punishment for striking a rock twice for water in anger Hashem forbids Moses entry and Moses does what any of us would do in that situation he pleaded. Here is a guy who did not choose to be born as a slave, he did not choose to grow up in Pharaoh’s court, he pleaded not to be a Jewish leader, yet he had all of those things placed on him and now he is forbidden to experience the one thing he worked so hard and so long for.
Israel is the formal name given to the Jewish people and has a largely excepted meaning of “struggle with G~d” in this portion we once again are shown a man struggling our creator and G~d. Moses is a man who has seen his biological mother die, his brother and sister die, he lost contact with his adopted family decades ago, he had a quiet life in the wilderness taken from him, and he was basically forced into leading a people he is unable to relate to while constantly facing frustration and war. Now with his mortality in question Moses struggles for a feeling of completion. Who wouldn’t be heart broken in Moses’ sandals? In a way showing Moses the Promised land is like Hashem striking Moses once in anger and refusing to allow him to enter is like striking him a second time but instead of a gush of water only pleas pour forth.
Moses is not the only one my heart breaks for because how can those entering into the Promised Land fully appreciate what is about to happen? They know the nomadic life but have no concept of slavery in fact those who did have that understanding through memory are already dead. Life can be harsh but times and people change.
Jeremiah@punktorah.org Twitter: @circlepitbimah