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Parashat Devarim

July 21, 2023
3 Av 5783
Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22

When the Past is the Present
by Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman

Founding director of Sinai & Synapses, the organization which is funding our program
as part of the "Scientists In Synagogues" initiative.

Though Moses says that he has “never been a man of words” (Ex. 4:10), this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, starts Moses’ book-long address to the Israelites before they enter into the land of Canaan. We’ll be reading it through September, as Moses recounts the journeys, travails, successes and challenges the Israelites faced in their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.

Yet what’s always struck me is the use of the repeated word “you” in the book of Deuteronomy, especially in this week’s portion. “…[Y]ou refused to go up, and flouted the command of your God יהוה. You sulked in your tents and said, ‘It is out of hatred for us that יהוה brought us out of the land of Egypt, to hand us over to the Amorites to wipe us out…’” (Deuteronomy 1:26-27) 

The problem is that the “you” Moses is addressing is a different “you” than the people he’s talking about. The generation that’s about to conquer the land is an entirely new collection of people from those who had escaped slavery from Egypt (other than Joshua and Caleb). The generation of slaves were the ones who rebelled, so the “you” here is surprising – these Israelites weren’t the ones who flouted and sulked, it was their parents and grandparents. So why are the past and the present intermingled here?

Tue, October 3 2023 18 Tishrei 5784