This is the Torah portion that opens the last book in the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy.
The book begins with: “These are the words which Moses spoke unto all Israel.”
In this book, Moses speaks to the people and gives them the main things they need to know before entering the Land of Israel. He summarizes all the experiences of the people, from the Exodus until now.
This repetition is important, because the Israelites in front of him are the young generation that did not experience slavery, Pharaoh and the Exodus – only the long journey around the desert. (The older generation has died out.)
Pay attention to the process that Moses went through. We all remember the hesitation of Moses the shepherd of Midian in the beginning of his journey and the divine commandment to go and speak to the children of Israel:
Then Moses said to the LORD, “O my Lord, I am not a man of words, neither before nor since you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)
So what happened to the stuttering, slow-of-speech man who used his older brother Aaron to talk for him? How did this Moses become one who could give voice to clear, poignant words that would be preserved forever?
Maybe 40 years of talking with God did that? Maybe he had to practice a lot? Perhaps the death of his brother Aaron forced Moses to speak to the people? Perhaps, a few days before his predetermined death, Moses was freed from all hindrances and gave expression to his true ability, the one he did not know until that day?
And perhaps, when a man speaks from his heart, his words come out eloquent and precise?
Moses knows and reminds the people of the journey that brought him to this point – their history, their laws, their new legal system and their choices.
We can give the speech this title: “Know where you came from and where you are going.”
In order to face reality, one must know reality. How did we get here? What were our mistakes? What things have we done right?
This Torah portion emphasizes the degree and limits of responsibility. What are people responsible for? The people are responsible for the world of doing. Responsible to judge justly and impartially. To make decisions. To obey instructions. To know their power and its limits.
And there are also things which are NOT the responsibility of the people. In these areas people should listen and trust. The areas which are not our responsibility are areas which especially teach us what faith is!
In these areas we must learn to feel the divine hand that carries us on our way. In these difficult and unknown moments in which we feel Helpless. Exhausted. And even desperate. Here we learn the trust of leaning on our Creator. We learn faith to incorporate in our lives holding and strengthening us. With its help we can feel support, peace and security. From this safe place full of faith we can speak with conviction. We can understand how capable we are when we speak from the heart. A heart full of faith.
And perhaps this is our way today, in these challenging days, when we are still in dire straits – the narrow, difficult places that everyone finds in his life. Even in this period we must understand what are our capabilities, and what is our responsibility.
At this time we are standing in the streets in Israel and shouting in protest, about what is happening in our world, in our country, in our lives, in our health, in our livelihood. This painful sound, indeed, will be heard and echoed “up and beyond” when we bring it from the believing heart, from the trusting heart, just like the words that came from the heart of Moses just before he parted, a moment before his death. This was Moses who walked and walked and walked through the desert, leading year after year, for 40 years, and apparently did not enter the Promised Land.
But he instilled in us what leadership is when it is rooted with faith.
Leadership from the Heart.
I believe that from this place of the supportive, quiet heart, trusting and believing, future leaders can grow, like Moses.
“The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” (Psalm 28:7)