We read and we study. We grapple with these words, these instructions, teachings, laws, examples, promises, blessings, curses, etc. Then like the master craftsman, G”d puts that final twist, that reversal, that surprise, into the story. After all we have gone through as readers, after all that our ancestors went through to reach this point where they are about to enter the promised land, after thousands of words, each, according to the rabbis, meant to be there-not one jot or tittle out of place or without some meaning…we hit what I think is the real denouement of the Torah: D’varim 31:19-21.
19 Therefore, write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, in order that this poem may be My witness against the people of Israel. 20 When I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey that I promised on oath to their fathers, and they eat their fill and grow fat and turn to other gods and serve them, spurning Me and breaking My covenant, 21 and the many evils and troubles befall them — then this poem shall confront them as a witness, since it will never be lost from the mouth of their offspring. For I know what plans they are devising even now, before I bring them into the land that I promised on oath. (JPS, 1985)
Here we are told, matter-of-factly, the reason for the existence of the Torah. It is to serve as a witness against us. G”d tells Moshe rabbeinu quite plainly that the children of Israel will go astray, turn to other gds. The Torah is there so that future generations will know what it is that G”d has asked of the Jews, and to illustrate how far they have strayed!
Could be a pretty depressing scenario. It is, however, realistic and historically accurate, even unto this day. We continue to stray, to turn to other gds. We fail to follow the mitzvot, to keep our end of the covenant. And Torah is always there to remind us of this-to be the witness against us.
So we seek to find ways to bend the Torah, to keep it alive and vibrant, make it jibe with contemporary knowledge and contemporary society. There is always a part of me that wonders if this is truly the wise course-and how far can be bend the Tree of Life before it breaks?
But our grand Jewish tradition reaches to an earlier part , in parashat Nitzavim, to address this issue. I’ve written about it before, as have countless others. Lo Bashamyim Hi. The Torah is not in heaven. G”d gave it to us, and now it is up to us to interpret it. And the Torah itself tells us we should not find it too baffling, to difficult to understand, to distant to approach, for it is in our very mouths and hearts.
Feel it. The internal tension. Torah is G”d’s witness against us, yet it is also no longer G”d’s to interpret, but ours. Oh, the irony. It’s natural to shy away from the tension-but don’t! Embrace it, take it into yourself, make the tension, the very dialectic that is Torah, part of your being.
For is it not obvious to us all by now? Light from dark. Day from night. Land from water. Sacred from profane. Blessing and curse. A witness against our transgressions yet the freedom to interpret that very witness ourselves. We have come full circle from creation.
Life is not just about being all good, or all bad, all rich or all poor, all gentle or all rough, all friendly or all wicked, all generous or all miserly. Life is about being both good and bad, rich and poor, gentle and rough, friendly and wicked, generous and miserly. All in one package. This, our holy Torah makes abundantly clear. We are a treasured people, honored with a special covenant with G”d, yet we are a stiff-necked and obstinate people, always seeking after other gds. This is not a fault to be fixed. It is a reality to be dealt with. The Torah is the ultimate guide to better mental health by teaching us to accept the dualities and dichotomies of life. OK, so today wasn’t such a good today. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll do better. Only the knowledge that the only consistency in life is inconsistency can get us through life’s trails and tribulations. Thank you, Gd, for this great wisdom you have shared with us, through your servant Moshe. May it be Your will and ours that we use it wisely.
Shanah Tovah and Shabbat Shalom,
© 2012 Portions © 2007, 2000 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5770 – Flawed, Schmawed
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5769 – Disconencting the Reconnecting the Dots
Vayeilekh_Shabbat Shuvah 5769 – Cows and Roses
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5766 – Keep Looking
Vayelekh 5765-The Time Is Still Now
Nitzavim 5765-To Lo Or Not To Lo
Nitzavim/Vayelekh 5763-Connect the Dots
Nitzavim 5757/5759/5764-Lo Bashamayim Hi
Nitzavim 5758-Not By Ourselves
Nitzavim 5761 was the week of Sept. 11, 2001. There was no Musing.