Are we Setting a Good Example?
Av 4 5780
Devarim is the last of the five books of the Torah and is the only one written directly by Moshe. Our sages say that it was written one month before he died and that he felt pressured to help the Israelites learn from the mistakes of their parents. It can be compared with a letter written by a father who wants to leave a refresher course to his children after he is gone. It can also be seen as a “renewal” of the teachings in the first four books. Our prophet Jeremiah in chapter 31:30 said that the LORD would make a “new covenant” בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה with the house of Israel and Judah since our fathers broke the old one, however this time He would put it in our hearts. The covenant or Torah would remain the same, but it would be presented in a renewed way.
Moshe was speaking to this second generation as grandchildren, to gently remind them of all the mistakes that they and their parents had made along the 40-year journey in the wilderness. Instead of accusing them or detailing each incident, he simply reminded them of each place where they had had a special experience; for example, Lavan and Di-zahav opposite the Red Sea. Lavan which means white, represented when they complained about the manna and Di-zahav which means gold, represented when they worshipped the golden calf. In this portion Moshe demonstrated how human he was, saying that it was their idea to send out scouts (Deut. 1: 22, 23). He blamed the people because he was not able to enter the Promised Land (Deut. 1: 37). When we are confronted with something, instead of admitting what we did, we tend to justify our actions and blame someone else. Moshe had wanted to prevent this younger generation from doing just that, but he immediately fell into the trap himself. That is why I love the Scriptures. They don’t whitewash our heroes.
The Creator is showing us that we, being made in His image are neither robots nor slaves; He gave us the right to make decisions but with these come responsibility. We cannot expect someone else to assume the consequences for our wrongdoings, not a person nor an animal sacrifice. The basic message in the Torah is that when we fail, we need to acknowledge what we did, do teshuva (return to Him) and make it right. There were no jails in the Scriptures and no Korbanot or offerings for intentional sin. If our great prophet and leader, Moshe blamed the people, who are we to think that we would not do the same. There is an expression “Do what I say, don’t do what I do!” Our children observe our behavior and question us. That is why we need to be so careful.
Many of those who entered the Promised Land after wandering 40 years in the wilderness were 58 years old. This second-generation differed from the first in that they never had the experience of being slaves. They were being taught to form a unified community. We may not realize how we are molded by our upbringing. This portion is very psychological. Moshe understood what this generation had to go through because of the behavior of their parents. Although we as parents have a lot of responsibility toward our children, there are no perfect parents. We do the best that we can because we want the best for them. Some are strict disciplinarians while others are very permissive. The best is in the middle, but it is a narrow road. When our children become adults, we can see the results of how we have trained them. If they were not taught respect, manners, being polite, their behavior reflects upon us as parents and makes it more difficult for them to succeed in life. The Fifth Commandment tells us to honor our father and mother because they gave us life in the same way that the Creator did.
Devarim 1:5, “…took Moses upon him to expound this Torah, saying…”: הוֹאִיל מֹשֶׁה, בֵּאֵר אֶת-הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת לֵאמֹר explains that Moshe will teach them the Word of God so that they would understand the right thing to do. We know our children and need to treat each child according to his own psyche as the Creator treats each of us uniquely. No two of us are alike and He will treat us in a way that each of us can understand. He will do whatever it takes to get our attention. He wants us to “listen” and obey – ‘Shema – שְׁמַע” – put words into action. How often do we do something without realizing the consequences? We each have a conscience which helps us to respond in the right way. Truth resonates within our hearts. In general, Moshe spoke to the whole of Israel, but they didn’t all accept what he said. In our own families, some children respond well to our instructions while others are stubborn. We need to invest more time with the troublemakers while the ones who are good tend to feel ignored. The Torah pays more attention to the troublemakers because they need it. We need to be careful when interpreting the Scriptures that we know to whom the message was directed and why.
Psychologists tell us that not everyone accepts basic truths for what they are. People have varying capacities to process information. Moshe needed to speak to people at every level of understanding. Next week, the portion Vaetchanan – וָאֶתְחַנַּן will repeat the Ten commandments. They are not only universal but hold the entire Truth for humanity; whether you are rightist or leftist, progressive liberal or conservative, there can be no argument about their validity. How we apply these commandments is the issue. When I think about my parents, I realize how steady and faithful they were to their responsibility toward me throughout all my rebellious years and I am so grateful that they never abandoned me. When I was far away from them, they were even more concerned about my well-being. Not everyone had good parents, but they can now make better decisions about how to be with their own children. I hope that children will see that their parents only want the best for them. Let us, as parents, acknowledge the areas that we failed and admit that although we are not perfect, whatever we did, we did out of love for our children. Let us begin this fifth book of the Torah, thinking about how we want to move forward in our lives, like the children of Israel who were ready to move forward to take the Promised Land.