Parasha D’varim is a retelling. You might think that Moshe rabbeinu might have started this retelling with the story of the Israelite sojourn into Egypt, descent into slavery, and our miraculous delivery from Pharaoh and Egyptian slavery. (Like our Pesakh haggadah, except containing Moses!) After all, most of the generation that had experienced the miracle of the exodus was gone.
However, Moshe starts his story at Sinai, at a time after the revelation and the giving of the Torah. And he starts his story recounting an instruction from G”d:
רַב־לָכֶם שֶׁבֶת בָּהָר הַזֶּֽה
Rav lachem shevet bahar hazeh – You have dwelled long enough at this mountain (1:6b-JPS)
I thought on these words and what they might mean in a broader context. Phrases echoed in my head:
“Time to move on, to pickup and go. Time to leave the safety and security of complacency. Don’t look back at either fortunes or misfortunes, as a whole new future lies open before you if you will but go forward into it.”
Parasha D’varim is about forward motion. It retells the sojourn of the Israelites after they left Sinai, and relates stories of the military victories along their eventual drive towards the promised land (albeit, with a “brief” 40 year interval in there somewhere.) Well, yes, there was almost 40 years of wilderness wandering, but then a huge flurry of activity towards the end. Moshe starts his narrative with the first stirrings of this forward motion. What came before that seems not all the important at the moment.
The past is prologue, it is said. Now, all the Israelite history that came before this instruction, this “time to move on,” is it really just prologue? Surely not. If we look further along into D’varim, past our parasha, we see Moshe invoking the memory of the exodus-most forcefully and in a central profession of faith. And the revelation at Sinai, the giving of the law – that, according to some, is the high point of Jewish existence. And our holy Torah relates our story back to its origin.
But let’s turn this around. Perhaps all that comes before G”d says to the Israelites “time to move on from Sinai” is prologue-prologue for what comes next: action. To receive the law, to be promised a land-these are G”d’s actions, G”d’s words. Now the time has come for our action – to put into practice these instructions and show our faith in the G”d who gave them to us (and the G”d who freed us from Egypt.)
If “rav lachem shevet bahar hazeh” is a simple nudge, then further along into the journey, as related in our parasha, is a charge, and true push. Twice we read the same instruction:
“Kumu v’ivru.” Get up and cross over. First, over nahal Zered, and then nahal Arnon.
When the Israelites are hearing this story retold, where are they? At the very threshold of another crossing over. The big kahuna crossing. Entry into the land promised to Abraham and his descendants. The story told in our parasha is an exhortation, an urging to action – with assurance that, as G”d has done until then, G”d will see them through safely and victoriously, and be with them.
Moshe made a wise choice here – to deliver this exhortation, this charge, first. Only later on in Sefer D’varim do we read that Moshe spoke of the miracle of our freedom from slavery, and then we read his reminders to us of G”d’s instructions and why we must follow them. Smartly, Moshe ends his speeches with praise for G”d and then his blessing for Israel-but more on all that when we get to those parashiyot. It is the charge: kumu v’ivru, that comes first and foremost.
It’s a solid strategy. Imagine for a moment Moshe laying out a long litany regarding G”d’s instructions to the people, with more than a fair share of them which might be unpopular with the people, and then having to tell the crowd “OK, G”d says, it’s time to kumu v’ivru again.” “Not if we gotta do all that crap you told us we had to do, Moshe!” might come the reply. (The religious among us, myself included, might think it would make perfect sense to do it in this order-instructions and then charge-for then G”d is clearly the motivation for crossing over. But I daresay many, if not most people want the good news up front, and the details later.) Moshe knows-people will hear mostly what he says at the beginning and at the end. So he starts with a story of victorious forward progress (and ends, as we said earlier, with praises and blessings.) He puts the charge – kumu v’ivru – first.
We’ve glossed over the obvious here that we are the ivri, the Hebrews, those who have “crossed over.” It is in our very nature to be the ones who cross over, but we so often seem reluctant to do so. We have to be exhorted to rise up and cross over. Over and over. We like to hang out at the foot of the mountain. Or we complain of ennui – that our get up and go has gotten up and left.
In our own lives, how many of us have stayed too long at the mountain? How many of us are at the threshold, and reluctant to cross over. The message of parasha D’varim is should speak to us now as it did to our ancestors and inspire us to action. G”d is with you, G”d is with us let us kumu v’ivru – get up and cross over.
©2015 (portions ©2000) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on the parasha:
D’varim/Hazon 5774 – Refractory Recalcitrant Recidivists (Redux 5766)
D’varim 5773 – The Pea in Og’s Bed
D’varim 5772 – Revised 5762 – L’chu v’niva’ch’chah and the Twelve Steps
D’varim 5769-Torah of Confusion
D’varim-Shabbat Hazon 5771/5766 – Refractory Recalcitrant Recidivists
D’varim 5764–Eleven Days
D’varim 5763–Remembering to Forget or Forgetting to Remember?
D’varim 5762-L’chu v’niva’ch’chah and the Twelve Steps
D’varim 5759-Owning Up