By Alex Nealy
July 29, 2006
On the Occasion of His Bar Mitzvah
This is the part where I’m supposed to explain the torah portion that I have just read…but before I do that, I want to thank you all for being here today. It really means a lot to me and to my family…. Thank you very much.
This is my interpretation of Devarim, the torah portion I just read in Hebrew.
After wandering in the desert for 40 years, Moses addresses the next generation of the Jewish people – the ones destined to enter the Promised Land.
This is Moses’ final speech to the people, the conclusion of his long life of service to them.
Along with an historical summary, it is a reminder to the people that they fell far short of the sacred standards. He speaks to them like a parent scolding his children.
Even though the people he guided for forty years are poised to enter the Promised Land, Moses knows that he himself will not be allowed to accompany them. He knows he is going to die without ever reaching the Promised Land, and is taking the opportunity to share with them words of wisdom to guide them in the future.
At that point in time, Moses was said to have been 120 years old…so he had been thinking about these things a long time, and he had a lot to say.
It is said that Moses spoke to the people for 37 days… you have my word, I promise not to!
This torah portion – Devarim – means “words.”
This is interesting in several ways.
First, Moses was a person who was challenged by speech, and even unable to speak as a child.
As a shepherd, he was commanded by an experience of G-d in the form of a burning bush, to confront Pharaoh and then to lead the Jewish people out of slavery. When G-d told Moses he was to do this, Moses responded by saying, “I am not a man of words”.
But since that time, many things transpired, and after the Exodus from Egypt and forty years of wandering in the desert, the people arrived at the Promised Land. The forty year journey also brought Moses to words. He discovered the message and meaning of his life’s struggle. And for the entire book of Deuteronomy, the once mute prophet articulates his words.
Moses, the man who was slow in speech, had become a master of words, speaking eloquently and sufficiently to fill an entire book and to inspire an entire people.
Moses had a legacy to leave and an interpretation to give, and this time, he spoke to his people, telling them not G-d’s words but his own words.
When G-d commanded Moses to write down the words – the Devarim – for all the generations to come, G-d was granting the Divine authority of Torah to Moses’ Book of Deuteronomy – and making it G-d’s Book as well.
“Why Moses?” you may ask. Moses was said to be a man of great humility, even said to be the most humble person on earth. And he had a deep sense of righteousness. Although he was brought up in the Egyptian palace as royalty and trained to feel superior – the first time he encountered injustice – a slave master beating an old man – Moses responded with outrage, and stopped the beating. His righteousness overruled his royal training.
So getting back to what it is that Moses wanted to impart to the people.
The most important message was to remind them of the Covenant with G-d..
A covenant is a promise or contract. Both parties promise something. Each benefits from the other keeping their part of the contract. According to the terms of the covenant, the Jewish people understand that G-d promised to undertake certain things on behalf of the people of Israel, and that the people owe G’d adherence to his laws.
The whole point of Moses’ speech was to show them where they went off track, and to urge them to keep their word.
Today is Shabbat Hazon, which is the Sabbath after Tisha B’Av. It is a time of reflection and of vision for the future. I thought about why Moses was repeating information that was already written earlier in the Torah…and that made me think about what is the purpose of repetition? What is the purpose of repetition?
Now, I’m a student, and sometimes I repeat things just to memorize them. But usually, when my teachers give me the exact same information again, they are asking me to look deeper.
This is what I think Moses is telling the people to do.
When I look at the deeper meaning of this repetition of history that Moses delivered, the thing that stands out the most is his reminding them of their promise.
So I looked at my own life and thought about the promises I have made to myself and decided to be inspired by Moses and to declare my promises out loud to all of you.
I promise to try my very best at everything I do.
I promise to be a good son and be respectful to my parents.
I promise to always be there for my brother, Zac, and my sister, Liandra.
I promise to be the kind of person whose word means something
I promise to be a responsible member of the community and to the Jewish community.
And I know… that if I do not keep my promises…
I can count on all of you… to remind me.