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Devarim – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

Moses is now speaking to the people before we were to cross the Jordan: no longer a history but a series of reviews. It contains reminders to the people of our travels, of the lessons we have learnt, of the covenant we entered into and of the laws that bind us. It is also Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat of Vision; always read on the Shabbat before Tish B’Av, when we commemorate the tragedies which we have suffered.

Early in the reading we hear Moses saying

הֹוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֵ֛ינוּ דִּבֶּ֥ר אֵלֵ֖ינוּ בְּחֹרֵ֣ב לֵאמֹ֑ר
The Lord our God spoke to us in Horeb

That was the last time we heard the voice of God directly. From here on we will have to take responsibility and make decisions for ourselves. We will need to rely on words, “Devarim” which we will carry with us.

The words that we as a people spoke to God in the wilderness were complaints but what we learnt in those years was set down for us to remember. We now had the “Torah she-be-al peh”, (the Oral Law). The people to whom Moses is now speaking (except for Joshua and Caleb) were not present at Sinai.

We needed to be reminded about justice

You shall not favour persons in judgment
לֹֽא־תַכִּ֨ירוּ פָ6נִ֜ים בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֗ט

We are reminded that we cannot take the lands of our relations. Other tribes, those who opposed us, would be destroyed.

You are about to pass through the boundary of your kinsmen, the children of Esau. You shall not provoke them. I have given Mount Seir to Esau for an inheritance
Do not distress the Moabites
I will not give you of the land of the children of Ammon as an inheritance, because I have given it to the children of Lot as an inheritance.

The whole Book is described as “Mishneh Torah”- the repetition. Moses, that meek man who lived in the Egyptian court, saw the burning bush, took us out of slavery and brought us to Sinai needed to remember and pass on a legacy.

Age can dim memories: we may rewrite events. At the end of the Book we will read that Moses’ eyes were not dim and his natural force not abated. May we all be so blessed to pass on our inheritance and our history in our own words to those who come after us.

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