If you were Moses' speechwriter what would you suggest that he include in his final farewell address to the Jewish People?
Applying a famous concept of Rav Soloveitchik, Moses must assure the Jewish People that their future is bright, and he must encourage them to embrace their destiny.
In the opening of his address, Moses chose to include the promise that God made. The Land of Canaan would be an eternal possession of the Jewish People. The second generation of the wilderness would have to make good on that promise. He wanted to motivate the Children of Israel and reflect on their journey.
Look at verse 8 below. Note the combination of the early ancestors' names as they appear in the verse below (verse 8) - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses brings them back into their history, beyond the redemption from Egypt and the generation of their own parents.
We use this "calling upon the ancestors" formula in our Amidah to move worshippers beyond their own life experiences. How does it work in our lives to help us embrace the destiny of the Jewish People?
Every word of a speech is important - especially Moses'! So now read the verses that came before Moses' reminder about the Promise. Verses 6 & 7 are below.
Keep in mind these questions:
When Moses mentions Horev, another name for Mt. Sinai, is he referring to another of God's kindnesses? Is he characterizing the giving of the law at Sinai in any way here? How might you characterize God's giving the Torah to the Jewish People at Sinai? A kindness? A challenge? An opportunity? Law, for developing a society of law and order? To develop character in us?
Why does Moses mention Sinai/Horev as the place where God spoke to us instead of as the place where we received the commandments?
Why does Moses remind them of their journey being from Sinai and not from Egypt? (verse 7)
In the next section of the chapter, his speech, Moses goes inward.
Why does he make this turn at this point? What can we learn from this reflecting aloud that Moses shares?
Is Moses demonstrating tshuvah? Sharing a personal growth moment?
Finding a way to bless the Children of Israel?
First ever איכה?
The word “eichah” occurs only 18 times in the entire Bible. In each instance, it conveys this rhetorical complaint:
Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit. There would be consequences. Despite the promise of blessings for human life and all that could flourish on the Earth, God turned to humanity and asked - "how could you?!" "where are you?"
When Moses said, "How can I bear all this?" might he have been asking the question to demonstrate and model and validate the question(s) of the second generation: how can we bear all this?! Where are we now that our parents have left us and Moses is about to die? Will we live up to the challenge? the Covenant?
Moses uses the word איכה eicha which (in letter combination) was used first in the Garden of Eden - "ayeka?" - where are you?
Human beings started missing the mark and eating forbidden fruit and ultimately experienced a murder when brother killed brother. How could they forego the blessings and commit the crimes they did?! How could it be, Moses begins his address, that we could be getting set to inherit the land and the first generation, freed from bondage, lost faith, stopped believing, committed idolatry and left fulfilling the promise to the second generation? How could we complain, argue and accuse one another when the Torah is in our possession and the journey is supposed to refine us?
Moses' recalling and recounting the episodes of his own inner struggles is a type of tshuvah. He is sharing his vision which means staring into the mirror and into the reality that unfolded. "Do not squander your opportunities!" He is telling the Children of Israel that looking back at our travails and travels is as important as remembering the blessing of the Promise of our Ancestors. That is what Tisha B'Av and our other fast days are for. That is why we even allow Shabbat to be infused with the spiritual work of preparing for Tisha B'Av - the day we remember the greatest calamities of the Jewish People.
Read the following passages from the Talmud to recount what led to the Temple's destruction in the Sages' conception:
Future generations (including us) are asked to recount the sinful, tragic, and stressful history of our People. That spiritual direction began in earnest when Moses, in chapter 1 of Deuteronomy, asked the Second Generation, the ones who would inherit the Promised Land, to remember the difficult chapters of their ancestors history and their parents' misfortune despite the blessings they set into motion.
The first chapter of Deuteronomy is usually characterized as starting with the rebuke of the Children of Israel, but Moses invitation is to recount and retell the stories of the times when faith failed them, broken-hearts were understood by God, and the fears and the tears built the character of the Jewish People. Despite the consequence of their not inheriting the Promised Land and Moses' own grappling with knowing his own fate, to never be allowed in, the first generation cried and prayed, in order to inspire the Second Generation to become stronger champions of God's plan and embracers of their own destiny.
Consider these words towards the end of chapter 1 of Devarim (Deuteronomy):
In this week's Haftarah, this is Isaiah's reminder, too. Here is the beginning of his vision:
And when we cry:
But Moses reassures:
And about Jerusalem Isaiah adds:
How could that kind of hate, Sinat Chinam, baseless hate, be counteracted?
When questioned why he loved Jews distant from the ideals of Torah, Rav Kook would respond, “Better I should err on the side of baseless love, than I should err on the side of baseless hatred.”
Rav Kook gave practical advice on how to achieve this love, called Ahavat Chinam.
- Love for people does not start from the heart, but from the head. To truly love and understand people - individually as well as a group — requires a wisdom that is both insightful and multifaceted. This intellectual inquiry is an important discipline of Torah study.
- Loving others does not mean indifference to baseness and moral decline. Our goal is to awaken knowledge and morality, integrity, and refinement
- If we take note of others’ positive traits, we will come to love them with an inner affection. This is not a form of insincere flattery, nor does it mean white-washing their faults and foibles. But by concentrating on their positive characteristics — and every person has a good side — the negative aspects become less significant