Friday, 24 Jul 2009

Written by Rabbi Dr Michael Shire

I’m standing here with my wife and the kids and all of tribes lined up listening to the old Man. Moses may be 120 but he can still deliver one of those long sermons he’s famous for. He seems full of the same old energy and passion as I remember my father telling me when he came out of Egypt but he’s talking a lot faster as if he doesn’t have that much more time in which to say it all. He’s doing a lot of reminiscing and looking back at these 40 years in the desert. He was at the centre of it all for all these years and what an amazing journey it was from leaving Egypt to arriving at Mt Sinai to wandering all over the place until reaching this spot just east of the Jordan river. I can’t tell if things were any better or worse than in Egypt for I was born on this great journey but I can tell you we won’t forget it. This experience of moving from slavery to freedom, from being a simple tribe to being a holy people will be implanted in memories for years to come and people will sit round their tables and retell all the great events. Of course, you can get tired of what miracles there were, how the food fell from heaven, how the sea parted! But the important thing is that we survived and survived for a purpose; one that goes beyond just us Jews. I think being the child of refugees continues to have an impact. I suppose we want to make sure this survival is meaningful and cherish our freedom and ensure that we won’t let it happen again.

So I’m still standing here and he is still going on. Now’s he laying out hundreds of things we are supposed to do and not do. But what seems most important is this idea of Brit – of Covenant that he keeps going on about. He says it goes all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not that anyone remembers them anymore. Moses says God has made this special relationship with us and this involves having special responsibilities. After all why would the God of all the Universe bother to communicate regularly with our little people if it wasn’t for a greater purpose. We are supposed to teach this teaching to others and get everyone to acknowledge that we are all partners in making this created world work. It’s probably not my place but some of these commandments seem a little out of date. I suppose we will have to review these rules and adapt them as needed in the future. Obviously if you are trying to build a new society, you need to put down the principles and I believe in them strongly; the sanctity of human life, all of us created in the image of God, justice and freedom as our highest ideals, one God who is universal and the source of all goodness, an ethical way of life and respect for our elders and those different from us. These are the great ideas by which we Jews are known and we will always need to be true representatives of these ideas. But surely the minutiae of all the rules will change over time and in the different places we go.

This Covenant seems something we each should take on and not let others make difficult for us. So many think that it’s not easy to be part of this Brit and I suppose it is a responsibility but it is also a privilege. A privilege to have been part of this historical experience and to be able to have the opportunity to build something new –something that other peoples and nations will look to with pride. I hope our children will feel the same when they grow up and take over. There are certainly some big shoes to fill! I wonder what our children will feel about what we did here in these eventful times?

I’m still standing here and it looks like he is coming to the end. At this rate my children and children’s children will be listening to this for a long time to come. I wonder how long he can keep going? Joshua’s ready to take over but knowing our Moshe, he won’t stop until he’s dead and buried somewhere in this wilderness. The land that we have been promised is just over the horizon. I wonder if it will really be flowing with milk and honey- we tell the kids that and they believe it but will we really make a just and settled home there? There are so many differences between us already, Reuben and Gad I’m told, are not coming over the Jordan but staying here on the east bank. Moses has insisted however that they take part in the fighting. So we will be a dispersed people and yet have a homeland. And what about our neighbours? It’s all very well reminding us how many times they hate us, but we have to live with them now side by side. Can we really share this land?

I’m still standing here and surely its time to get going and move into our Promised land. Should we impose our way of life on others? I’m troubled by all this war rhetoric from our new leaders. It seems to me that we left Egypt with the idea of a new history, one that highlighted liberty for all, not subjugation. Surely we can’t espouse freedom for all and then enslave others? I’m worried that we will be too jingoistic and not sensitive enough to the ways others want to live. All those tribes in the desert see life very differently and they don’t really want us to interfere. Obviously we have got to defend ourselves but surely if we have learned one thing from journeying through the desert, its how much we can learn from others. After all, it was Jethro, Moses father in law from Midian who watched Moses at work, got him properly organized and then rode off back to Midian.

“Choose life” he says, not death. What does he mean by that? “Choose blessings not curses?” Our actions do have consequences. We know we can do the wrong thing and it has consequences. Who can forget that debacle over the spies and the bad report they brought back that forced us to wander for 40 years in the desert. I suppose we do record our lives through our actions, both good and bad. Like a book, we have written the past chapter but now there is a blank sheet ahead. We can choose differently and it will lead to something different. So let’s move on and take our past and its memories with us as we move on to the next stage. We have much to do and we need to build a stable society, one in which we treat each other with gentleness and in which we reach out to those around us for the sake of peace. You know we could do something really wonderful as a People in a new land and leave a legacy for all time and for all peoples. Now wouldn’t that be worth something in the years ahead!



The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.