This week we find ourselves embarking on Devarim/Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of the Torah. While we’ll be reading through Deuteronomy until the conclusion of Sukkot in mid-September, in many ways, the dramatic narrative of the Torah is basically over. Much of what we’ll read over the next few months is a recounting of what happened to Moses and the Israelites – an itinerant, wandering tribe – as they emerged from slavery in search of freedom. As we’ll hear, most of the Book of Deuteronomy consists of Moses, standing before the people, recounting important events and reviewing key lessons gleaned from their partnership with G!D over their forty-year journey in the desert.
If we pay attention, we will find a fair number of inconsistencies between Moses’ re-telling of these events in Deuteronomy and the version presented in the earlier books. One example can be found in the opening verses, where Moses starts off by sharing:
The Lord our G!D spoke to us at Horeb, saying: “You have stayed long enough at the mountain. Start out and make your way to the hill country…” (Deuteronomy 1:6)
According to this re-telling from Deuteronomy, G!D was eager for them to quickly start their march towards the Promised Land and He lays out, in a very clear vision, how things will play out. In this description, He identifies the opportunities that exist (i.e., a land to be inhabited), how the opportunities will happen (i.e., the Israelites will wage and succeed in war against the current inhabitants), and who is going to do what (i.e., G!D’s responsibilities and the Israelites’ part).
However, if we go back and review the events in the Book of Exodus, there is no explicit mention that G!D told the Israelites that they had stayed long enough at Horeb (Mt. Sinai). More accurately, what is described is a series of formative experiences for an emerging nation. The events that occurred while the Israelites were encamped at Mt. Sinai include Moses’ ascent to the top of the mountain, an earth-shaking Divine Revelation, the giving of the Ten Commandments, and the worshipping of the Golden Calf. All of these situations occurred within a short while of each other. Eventually the Israelites are told to hit the road:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Set out from here, you and the people you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ – I will send an angel before you… But I will not go in your midst…” (Exodus 33:1-3)
At best, it can be inferred that the Israelites had overstayed their welcome. Notably, it was the act of being asked to leave that prompted the Israelites to pay greater attention, to listen for G!D’s will. They responded to this command by going into mourning. They realized (despite their recent idolatry) that an angel wasn’t enough; that they didn’t want to go anywhere without G!D present with them. This determination was foundational to their journey as a people of G!D.
It could be understood that the Israelites did not appreciate G!D’s urgency that they keep moving to the Promised Land, nor G!D’s faith in them. G!D’s original timeline wasn’t readily apparent to them at that time (nor is it to the reader).
Appreciating this from the Israelites’ perspective, it’s understandable that they had trouble operating on G!D’s time and schedule. They lacked the awareness and strength to get out of their self-will and more fully attune themselves to G!D’s plan for them. The Israelites were stuck in fear and old thinking – understandably so: as a group, their spirits had been crushed by hundreds of years of forced labor and oppressive laws. Their trust in authority was minimal, and they had only a nascent conception of a future for themselves as free people. It is likely that they were still living in survival mode, trying to get their bearings and having just enough faith to put one foot in front of the other, even when they had miracles holding up the world around them (which is literally what happened during the parting of the Red Sea). We can see by the way the Israelites handled (and created) the series of events at Mt. Sinai that they needed to do some work establishing a stronger spiritual connection with G!D.
It was only later that Moses was able to more clearly discern what G!D had desired for them. With the gift of time and a different perspective, Moses was able to see situations from the past more fully, allowing him to better identify factors that contributed to successes and failures. He’s open to seeing the mistakes and missteps that were made along the way and is able to use these experiences to teach lessons for growth. His humility allows him to be better attuned to G!D’s will, and he is able to see how the Israelites frustrated G!D’s designs because of their resistance to moving forward. To G!D’s credit, G!D demonstrates His willingness to work with the Israelites and to adjust His original timeline to meet the Israelites where they are.
As for the Israelites, so also for us: prioritizing our spiritual connections helps create and maintain the clarity which allows us to take responsibility for our part in a problem. It is also essential in order for us to let go of lingering resentments. And with insight and clarity comes discernment for taking the “next right action.” If we’re fortunate, we have people in our lives, like a Moses, to help guide us through this process with the wisdom they have gained traversing this territory ahead of us.
One of the key lessons that the on-going developments from the COVID pandemic has taught us is that we are not in full control of our time and our schedules. How have the past fifteen months helped you identify ways that you insist on operating on your time, instead of G!D’s time and plan? What helps you align these two?
As we work through the Book of Deuteronomy, AND as we continue to adapt to pandemic living, may we draw upon the resources we have within ourselves and throughout our networks to accept and align ourselves with G!D’s plan.
Chaplain Adam Siegel