Moses’ Last Address to the Israelites
By Morty Breier
November 4, 1995
Before I start this DRUSH let me offer some background to my own thinking about being an American Jew on a spiritual journey in the twentieth century. It seems, these days, that almost every Zen Buddhist, Swami, Logical Positivist and Alchemical Hypnotherapist that one meets is either a Jew, learned from a Jew or read the original text written by a Jew. Jewish scientists, writers, classical musicians, financiers, opinion makers, world analysts and Nobel Prize winners abound, especially here in America. All this while some of us, some say less and less of us, still leg tsvillen, bench licht are Shoima-Shabas and honor the Torah as the written word of God.
Many fear therefor, that Judaism is being lost to assimilation into a Goyish America. Believing that God’s plan moves us all forward toward His goals, I believe, quite to the contrary, that America, the most powerful and influential nation on this planet, is becoming more Jewish, and appropriately so. After all what better would Hashem, the all powerful, have happen than to put us, his allegedly chosen people, into both the spiritual crucible of this age and the powerful central structures of the planet’s guiding thought processes. His creation and care of this world we live on, and the goals He set for its future, as I see it, must be the reason he chose a particular people to represent him in the first place. In fact if we are a people chosen by God it must be because we are given the opportunity and have the ability to influence the direction our world takes.
I’m reminded of two jokes that emphasize the Jewishness of America. The first takes place in a typically American department store during the Christmas season. As children are coming up to the featured Santa Clause he sits each on his knee and says “And what’s your name little boy?” “My name is Larry Smith” “Have you been a good boy” “Yes, Santa.” ” Go there and take a present” says Santa. And then the next little child “And what’s your name little girl?” “My name’s Mary Brown” “And have you been a good girl Mary?” “Yes I have.” “Go there and take a present.” says Santa. And then the next boy “And what’s your name little boy?” “My name is Morris Schwarts” “Are you Jewish?” asks Santa. “Yes I am” replies the little boy. “Gay dortn un nem tsvai.” (Go there and take two – in Yiddish) replies Santa. The second joke involves a New York Jew who is being visited by a cousin from Budapest. The New Yorker is trying to impress his cousin with America and takes him to the George Washington Bridge. The cousin looks and says “Ah meer haben kimat der zelber zach in Budapest” (We have almost the same thing in Budapest). Then he takes him to the Empire State Building and the cousin says “Meer haben kimat der zelber zach in Budapest.” Finally, in desperation the New Yorker takes the cousin to China town and they’re sitting in a Chinese restaurant and the New Yorker says “So do they have this in Budapest?” With that the Chinese waiter comes running over and says “Bist auchet fun Budapest?” (Are you also from Budapest – in Yiddish).
In this spirit I hope my Jewishness does not separate me from the world, is not a narrow conceit, and does not abridge my ability to be a planetary soul. If I dip into the Torah to slake my spiritual thirst, I would hope to join the fray of twentieth century thought refreshed and with needed creative contributions. And as a Jew, as part of a culture that has always given the products of the mind the highest consideration, I also dip into Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, into the Journal of the Sciences, into Woman are from Venus and Men are from Mars and into the teachings of Christian Mystics, all made available to me by the marvels of this country America, this information age and this shrinking planet. That’s precisely why we Jews are Swamis and Nobel Laureates.
As a wannabe planetary soul, I personally find it offensive to use the word we, meaning Israel, an exclusionary term, when I communicate with God. I much prefer using I, with the thought that spiritual wisdom should be accessible to anyone. Everyone who wants should be able to say I to God, and I want to believe that Hashem is not merely a Jewish projection of a Jewish God but a cosmic God of unbridgeable and uncontainable domains. My drush will therefore be from this more universal vantage point, where anyone can assume the “I” of my commentaries. Let me tell you about what I’ve gotten from this portion of the Torah, and how it might apply to my own spiritual journey. In fact part of the commentaries of this portion advise the Jew to make the Torah fresh and exciting, as if it had been given today. Well this is my today, it is summer 1994, in Hawaii, Kona Beth Shalom and here I am hoping that this piece of Torah and my insights will be meaningful.
So we are at the portion where the Jews had crossed the desert and were at the banks of the Jordan. Moses gathers the people to further instruct them on their spiritual mission. It is his last chance to address the people as their conduit to Hashem. He will not be crossing the Jordan with them.
Parashas Ki Savo begins with Hashem telling the people that after establishing themselves in the promised land they must offer the first fruits of their fields, each season, to Hashem and that such an offering is to be accompanied by a prayer. There are also rules for celebrating ones good fortune and giving to the needy.
There is much to be gotten from this general command and its details. For my spiritual growth I must always acknowledge that all my accomplishments are God’s gifts and that this world and all that’s in it are eternally Hashem’s. By making an offering of the things of this earth I raise them to heaven and by loving God I bring Him down to earth. By consecrating my labor I make a dwelling place for him in my everyday acts. In my celebration I must remain centered, without conceit by remembering a time when I was needy. My concern for the less fortunate, while changing God’s attribute from Judgement to Mercy, changes center of my own emenations from the head to the heart.
There follows a paragraph where Hashem declares the inseparable-ness of God and Israel. Well my drush on this is that if its only my God who I declare to be my only God then He’s my God only. In other words If I project a personal God and declare that fact openly, who else would even consider taking him as their own God. In a more positive vein I’ve learned that my growth occurs in steps, and I would hope that after expanding myself to include the community of Israel, I continue to expand my community with an aim to including the entire world.
Further, Moses and the elders commanded the people to inscribe the Torah in stone as their first act upon entering the promised land. They are further instructed to gather to proclaim and reaffirm the Torah as the essence of their nation. There follows a list of accursed actions to which the people will say amen.
I take this to mean that I am to be guided by heavenly principal even or maybe especially when I am in the middle of an earth-bound undertaking. I must not put material expediency above spiritual wisdom. My reality’s lawfulness must always underlie its worldly appearance. Just as my body obeys the laws of motion so my spirit is lawfully channeled along the paths of spirit. No thought or action of mine is above the law. If I begin betraying other’s trust for my own advantage, I will lose my way and will slip backward in my spiritual journey. This is what it means to be accursed. It is not for others that my actions are righteous it is for my own spiritual journey’s gain.
Then Israel is told they will be blessed with Hashem as their Lord, that Hashem will make Israel a head not a tail amongst nations, that He will put them above others. He also advises Israel that they will be cursed if they forget Hashem.
I take this to mean that with God in my heart, My world and God’s world will be in harmony. That while He is in my heart I am without conceit, and that without conceit I will be able to see my way in His world, like a head, while others, those whose heart is only in themselves, blindly thrash about, like a tail. And further, that I descend into a barbaric world of curses, of disharmony, whenever I allow selfishness to prevail.
Finally Moses tells the people that it took 40 years to sufficiently purify them so that they might enter the promised land. Letting go, venturing forth and welcoming change have led me both to my spiritual growth and my promised land, Hawaii.