Deuteronomy 3:23 through 7:11 is the Torah portion called “Parashat Va’etchanan” (“and I beseeched”). This poignant passage of scripture contains Moses’ dying wishes that he is beseeching and begging of God and others. It brings me encouragement and strength.
You have the trembling words so central in Jewish prayer, as Moses beseeches the people to: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
You have words that help us all remember that we come from slavery to freedom: “And thou shalt say unto thy son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s servants in Egypt…’ ” (Deuteronomy 6:2)
You have the words of God’s clear covenant connection and promise to the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, throughout all their generations. “For thou art a holy people unto the LORD thy God; The LORD thy God has chosen thee to be a special people to himself, from among all the peoples on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 7:6)
Moses’ Dying Wish From God
One thing that touches me right now is Moses’ dying wish and last request from God. Moses pleads with God to allow him to cross the Jordan and see the good land. Rashi interprets the word “beseech/supplication” as connected to the meaning “free” – not as a reward for his good deeds, not as a reward for leading the people in the wilderness 40 years, but as a gift.
The answer he gets is roughly, “Go up the mountain and see the land, it’s the closest you can get.” God’s answer is unequivocal. No! No extra time, no additional term for Moses as president/prime minister/prophet, no bonus. You need to know how to say goodbye. Moses’ plea breaks my heart. I know the feeling. When something is over, it is finally over.
More than once I wanted to continue everything just as before. I hate separations. I wanted another moment with my father when he died. Another moment with my children who finished kindergarten, and then school, and then army service, and then they left home. Another moment in the office with the employees before they retire. A little more time in the house being sold, having to leave behind so many memories.
I know the feeling of not wanting to let go, but it just prolongs the pain and even deepens it. As hard as it is, we have to let go in order to open our hearts to something new. And God, who knows what we are like, helps Moses let go.
Moses, as a great leader, even with all his personal pain, reconciles himself with God’s decision. Moses accepts that an era has ended, and his role is complete. He understands that the people are about to settle down in towns and houses. They will soon end their wandering and they will need their next leader.
Moses’ Focus on Love
Many are familiar with the “love chapter” of I Corinthians 13. We can call these chapters in early Deuteronomy Moses’ “love chapters.”
Now, it is Moses’ time to say goodbye, and he focuses on love, “…because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn to your fathers…” (Deuteronomy 7:8).
Love!!! Such an abstract and even elusive word. Sometimes it feels like just an emotion.
We know the commandments that contain mundane actions of doing, but how can you command others to love wholeheartedly, to every degree possible? An answer is found in the well-known words “Sh’ma Yisrael” (Hear O Israel) Listening opens love.
Listen. Listen to God. Listen to your heart. Listen to your conscience. In the treatments I give my patients, something that always comes up is the great tension that people have between the lobes in the brain. The left lobe seeks logical explanations and the right lobe emotion. I usually have patients whose left lobe is very loud and there is almost no room for emotion. The work they do to connect to their heart is the great key to change in their lives. And I admit, something in us resists. But it is possible. Always.
Moses delivers his last words before the people: commandments, laws and instructions for the way forward, and between his words I hear great love. There is great love in his voice when Moses pleads with the children of Israel: “I will not be with you to care for you. Please, please remember what is important.”
It was precisely because of God’s love, that he brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, yes even straight into the great desert. We read above that God’s choosing of Jacob’s descendants was out of his love for them – his passion to have a people that were “peculiarly” his.
In his love, God gave this land to the children of Israel, a land full of vineyards and olives and houses and all good things.
And what are we required to give in return? “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) We are required to give God love.
This should have additional corollary expressions for each of us, such as: To love what comes to my life. To love what leaves my life. To give love when we need help, but also when everything is good – when there is abundance, livelihood, health, a home and children. To give love on a daily basis and pass it on. To choose to listen to our conscience that directs us instead of things that dazzle us. To understand and pass on to others, that we are not alone in this world. That God is with us.
We want to feel God’s gift of love in our very bones. Love that brings grace, joy, healing, correction, salvation, faith.
So this is the message: Abide in his love. Yes, that also means you have to love yourself! If we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, we need to actually love ourselves. Love your spouses, your children, your grandchildren, your friend, your relative. And if we succeed, increasingly, ripples of love will spread out.
Perhaps we will love even our enemy, just as Jesus said in the New Testament: “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
In short, you shall love.