Parshat Devarim: Moses reviews history

Uploaded by gdashdcast on 20.07.2009

It takes eleven days, the Torah tells us,
to get from Mount Sinai to Kadesh-Barnea,
the Israelite campsite
at the edge of the Promised Land.
But instead of a week and a half,
it has taken the Israelites
nearly forty years.
That's some detour.
So it's reasonable to wonder
about two things:
How did we get here?
And what took so long?
Moses has some explaining to do.
It's been thousands of years
and four books of Torah,
but we've arrived.
We're on the verge.
We're standing on the threshold
of God's promise.
Except nobody knows it.
Other than Moses, Joshua, and Caleb,
none of the Israelites
who left Egypt are still alive.
It's a brand new generation,
a generation with no memory
of going down to Egypt.
No memory of slavery.
No memory of the Exodus.
No memory of receiving the Torah at Sinai.
This generation has no memory of anything
other than wandering in the desert.
And – about that –
they probably have some questions.
The book of Dvarim is mostly
one long answer to those questions.
First up is a history lesson.
And Moses mentions so many nations,
and so many battles,
that we have to wonder
what makes them so important.
Emim, also known as Rephaim,
also known as Zamzummim,
Anakites and Horites,
Geshurites and Macathites.
Sichon the Amorite, King of Cheshbon.
King Og of Bashan. It's hard to keep track.
Moses even throws in the Avim,
a people who make their one and only
appearance in the Torah right here –
and apparently had nothing whatsoever
to do with the Children of Israel
other than to be mentioned by Moses.
It isn't especially easy to
get our heads around this,
especially considering that
as far as we know,
these nations were more or less
minding their own business,
or at least only fighting each other,
until God brought the Israelites along
and cleared their path.
So it's an eleven-day journey
that really doesn't bother anyone
and gets straight to the destination...
or what we'll call the scenic route:
thirty-nine years, eleven months, one day,
and lots of people in the way.
So we need a review.
And Devarim invites us
to review our relationship to history.
In Devarim, the story of the Children of Israel
begins not with something
that happened to us,
but something we did:
We got up on our own two feet
(or, rather -- on our 1.2 million feet,
give or take).
We left Mount Sinai.
We began our journey
as a people with Torah.
To be sure, the first time the Israelites
got to the border of the Promised Land,
it didn't go so well.
After some fearful reports
from their advance scouts,
the people refused to walk another inch
and then God became angry with them.
Some of them ran headlong
into battle with Sihon and Bashan.
They ended up headless.
Thrust from slavery to freedom,
the Children of Israel lurched from
fear to recklessness.
They let events drive them,
instead of taking responsibility
for their own future.
And it took a few years to get back,
but here we are again at the edge,
on the verge, at the threshold.
Back then, the cliché that those who forget
the lessons of history
are doomed to repeat it
wasn't yet a cliché.
Devarim is Moses's effort
to avoid that mistake.
He gives the Children of Israel
ownership of their own history.
He reminds us that history by itself
isn't what makes us special;
the Torah itself makes us special.
History is not something
that happens to us.
History is what we do
with what happens to us.
Has our ultimate destiny
already been predicted?
The Torah tells us
that God will keep God's promises.
But the long and circuitous journey
to the Promised Land gives us the time
to remind us that the history of our arrival
has yet to be written.
We have been called to the journey.
How we get there is up to us.
Producer: Sarah Lefton
Animation Director: Nick Fox-Gieg
Animation: Jeanne Stern
Editorial Director: Matthue Roth
Theme Music: Tim Cosgrove
Written and Narrated by Shawn Landres
Sound Recording: Gregory Butler