Words, words, words… Devarim is full of these slippery, chameleon, shape-shifting creatures. Are they to be trusted? To encourage us to do just that, the last book of the Torah begins by situating itself very exactly in space and time: “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel on the east bank of the Jordan, in the desert, in the Aravah, near Suf, in the vicinity of Paran, Tofel, Lavan, Chatzeroth and Di Zahav… On the first of the eleventh month in the fortieth year, Moses also spoke to the Israelites regarding all that God had commanded them. This was after he had defeated Sichon, king of the Bashan, who lived in Ashatasroth…” And so it goes on. To fix Devarim even more securely, Moses proceeds to summarise the story so far. Here he is at his grandest. The simple yet unassuming authority with which he speaks makes the reader sit up attentively, as it must have made the Israelites stand and listen with the greatest alertness. Moses brings the narrative up to the present and begins to reach forward to the impending entry into the promised land.
Poor Moses. After forty years of leading the people, of guiding them, reasoning with them, pleading with them, and pleading with God on their behalf, he understandably pleads now on his own behalf to be allowed to cross the Jordan with the people he has done so much for and see the good land. Va-etchannan. But it is not to be. Yet Moses, straight and true, despite his profound disappointment, does not plead any longer or complain, but continues his work by beginning to remind the people of the lessons accumulated over forty years. “What nation is so great that they have such righteous rules and laws, like this entire Torah that I am presenting before you today?” The parshah proceeds to enumerate some of the laws and further to prepare for the history that lies ahead. There is so much – history and law that is. To get much more of a flavour than these few words can give, come along to the service on Saturday at 10.30. Pat Lipert will lead us.