When The Burden Of Memory Becomes a Life-Jacket

This sheet on Deuteronomy 9 was written by Tali Adler for 929 and can also be found here

Remember, never forget, how you angered God in the wilderness.

When we read this, in moments of goodness, it feels like a burden. Can we never be forgiven? Will our ancestors sin always keep us stained, even on our most shining days? Is it still in our veins, in our blood, the gold flecked, idolatry saturated water that Moshe made us drink in the aftermath of our darkest day?

But on the other days, our sin-filled days, the days when we know that if we were there we might have done the same--and there are more of those days than we would like to admit--the burden of memory becomes a lifejacket. On those days, when our stiff necks are like iron, on the days when we come face to face with our inadequacies, on the days when we find ourselves questioning whether God might have made a better choice, and whether God still might--it is this memory that tells us that our relationship is inviolable.

This is the safety that comes from having seen the brink, from having peered over the edge of the mountain. It is the love that comes from knowing that you have seen the worst, that you have done the worst, and been forgiven.

If Sinai was the first covenant of the Jewish people, then the aftermath of golden calf was the second: the promise that covenant endures even after its terms have been broken; the promise of love at our most unlovable; the promise that we haven’t come into this relationship because God is deluded about who we are, but even though, maybe even because, God knows the worst.

Remember, never forget, that you angered God in the wilderness. And remember, never forget, that God is here nonetheless.

(ו) וְיָדַעְתָּ֗ כִּ֠י לֹ֤א בְצִדְקָֽתְךָ֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱ֠לֹהֶ֠יךָ נֹתֵ֨ן לְךָ֜ אֶת־הָאָ֧רֶץ הַטּוֹבָ֛ה הַזֹּ֖את לְרִשְׁתָּ֑הּ כִּ֥י עַם־קְשֵׁה־עֹ֖רֶף אָֽתָּה׃
(6) Know, then, that it is not for any virtue of yours that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess; for you are a stiffnecked people.

Rabbi Tali Adler is a faculty member at Yeshivat Hadar, an egalitarian yeshiva on the Upper West Side

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