Parashat Devarim
04  August 2019

This week’s parashah serves as prologue to the last book of the Torah. It contains “the words (devarim) that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan.”. Moses, this time speaking as a kind of “man of the devarim” reminds the people of the unimaginable faithfulness of G-d who spoke to and journeyed with their forefathers despite their infidelity and ingratitude.

What does it mean for Israel to be spoken to by God? As experienced by Moses himself, the man who speaks G-d’s devarim, Israel’s peak encounter of G-d consists not so much of words spoken by the people but by words spoken by G-d. By communicating, G-d reveals the will and plan of G-d for them. As we read on, we sense G-d’s devarim as faithfulness and as utterance of commitment: G-d promises land (1:8,11, 20, 25; 2:8, 26; 3:18, 20), G-d puts up with their stubbornness of heart (1:9, 12, 26, 32, 41, 43; 2:1), G-d fights for them (1:4, 22; 2:14, 20, 24, 25, 31; 3:1ff), and G-d abides with them, most beautifully captured in Deut 1:29-33:

Don’t be fearful, don’t be afraid of them. ADONAI your G-d, who is going ahead of you, will fight on your behalf, just as he accomplished all those things for you in Egypt before your eyes, and likewise in the desert, where you saw how ADONAI your G-d carried you, like a man carries his child, along the entire way you travelled until you arrived at this place. Yet in this matter you don’t trust ADONAI your G-d, even though he went ahead of you, seeking out places for you to pitch your tents and showing you which way to go, by fire at night and by a cloud during the day.

Israel came to know that G-d chose to speak G-d’s devarim only to them. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it, “Israel’s relationship with G-d is based on words – the Torah that constitutes the covenant: the words of G-d to Israel and the acceptance of those words by Israel.” G-d’s devarim make of them a nation chosen to be G-d’s own. This is an enormous blessing they must hand down to the next generations through words. In the Book of Deuteronomy, the devarim of G-d shape the identity and life of G-d’s people. Consequently, Shema must always be their life’s stance and orientation. May our study and pondering of the Book of Deuteronomy make of us obedient hearers and loving bearers of G-d’s Devarim.

Reflection: [1] How has G-d “spoken” to you this past week? How have G-d’s devarim shaped your decisions or actions of late? [2] As we sit and hold in our hearts the world’s woes and weariness, griefs and groaning, what might G-d wish to tell us? How might G-d speak to our world now?

References: Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, Jewish Publication Society, New York, 2001; “WORDS, Devarim 5768,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “WORDS Covenant and Conversation”

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