This coming Shabbat morning we begin our reading of the Book of Deuteronomy, the final book of the Torah. Although many biblical scholars assert that this book was written at a much later time, traditionally it is viewed as Moses’ final words (a lot of them) to the Israelites as they were about to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Moses would not be joining them, so he repeats many of the previous laws and clarifies others, much in the way that a parent might remind his/her children before they head off to school, camp, a date, etc.
Deuteronomy plays like a kind of “greatest hits,” bringing us the Shema as well as a second recitation of the Ten Commandments. Ritual regulations are discussed, but there is a particular emphasis on what would be necessary for the people to create a just and peaceful society in their new homeland. There is also a strong sense of Moses’ own personal reflections and emotional state as he reaches the end of his tenure as prophet and leader.
The Book of Deuteronomy comes as a signal that the High Holidays are not that far away. In several weeks we will be at Elul…and we all know what comes after that. We approach a time of reflection—not unlike what I imagine Moses must have done as he approached the end of his life. We wonder how we have done, what it was all about, how we will be remembered.
There are times when I ask myself if I were delivering my final address, what would I say? What have I accomplished? What meaning has there been in my life? How will others remember me? What would I want my descendants to know? The truth is that we write this speech every day through our thoughts, words and actions. As we dive into the Book of Deuteronomy, let us answer those questions…and if we do not like the responses, it is never too late to begin editing our lives.