Parashat Devarim – Erev Shabbat 24 July 2020
Week of 19-25 July 2020
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22 Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1-27
Theme: Remember and Celebrate

This Torah portion is the first of the five retrospective discourses and poems that Moses addressed to Israel in Moab shortly before his death, after which the Israelites moved on and entered the promised land. Encamped in the plains of Moab, Israel is suspended in time and space, between Egypt and Sinai in the past and Canaan in the future. There has been a 40-year delay and the words “You stayed long enough,” (1:6) indicate impatience and God’s eagerness for Israel to enter the land immediately. On the threshold of a new life, Moses begins the farewell addresses to prepare them.

Moses first reviews the history of the people’s wandering, emphasizing Israel’s lack of fidelity and gratitude and then follows this up with a legal section of what must be observed and done. The first discourse (1:6-4:43) serves as a prologue to the book of Deuteronomy. It emphasizes that whether the Israelites will find happiness or have an easy life, will depend on how seriously they are faithful to their covenant with God. It shows the importance of the history of the people’s experience with God, as the basis of Israel’s religion.

In the words “God of your fathers,” (1:11), Moses refers to the covenantal promises made to the patriarchs. These include the promise of “seed” or descendants, land and God’s glory-presence, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” In his historical review, Moses recalls their defeats and conquests, murmuring, punishment of the “evil generation” (1:34) due to the scout incident, and God’s forgiveness. The review of history recalls what happened and makes the people remember. Moses frequently exhorts them to remember and tell their children and their children’s children (see also Deut 4:23; 5:15; 6:12; 8:2 among others).

Today, memory is part of keeping our faith. Jews and Christians have practices and liturgy that present events of the past so that, according to Guinan, each new generation can share them and appropriate them for itself. Israel celebrates the Sabbath to remember our God at creation. In the Passover Seder, the story of the exodus is retold and relived especially for the children. The youngest child present gets to ask the traditional four Ma Nishtana (Hebrew for “What has changed?”) questions like “Why is this night different from any other night?” The Christian Eucharist is celebrated to fulfill Jesus’ command, “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19; Cor 11:23-25).

The pandemic lockdown has made me miss being physically present at the Mass and hearing a favorite hymn: “We remember how you loved us to your death, and still we celebrate, for you are with us here; and we believe that we will see you when you come, in your glory; Lord, we remember, we celebrate, we believe.”

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What is your favorite Bible story that you want to tell children? 2. Do you have a happy memory with fellow Christians or Church workers? 3. Why is it important to keep our faith-related memories, especially in this time of the pandemic?

Bibliography: Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York: 2001); Guinan, M.D. The Pentateuch (Minnesota: 1990);Ska, J.L. Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch (Indiana: 2006)


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