Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Devarim – Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22
Transitions can be some of the scariest times in our lives. Do you get a queasy feeling remembering ones you’ve made? When we left NAS Lemoore and the military to return to Los Angeles and civilian life, my family and I were going back to friends and a place we knew well. Should have been a piece of cake. Parshas Devraim explains why it wasn’t:
“Hashem Your G-d gave to you this land for a possession, armed shall you cross over before your brethren the Children of Israel, all people of accomplishment.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 3:18)
This Sabbath’s parshas begins the fifth and final book of the Torah. Deuteronomy (Devarim in Hebrew) is known as Mishneh Torah, meaning repetition, review, or explanation of the Torah. The Children of Israel heard the previous four books of the Torah directly from G-d who spoke through Moses’s throat. But Moses received Deuteronomy from G-d in the way other Prophets received their messages from the Almighty, then at a later date conveyed it to the Israelites.
For the previous forty years the Israelites, with Moses as their leader, led a wondrous existence. In their travels G-d led them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. They ate manna, a food that some sources say tasted like every person’s favorite food. Kings Og and Bashan were defeated despite their greater strength. In short, G-d surrounded the people with miracles.
In the verse above, Moses appoints the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and half of Manasseh as the vanguard in the conquest of the land of Israel. The Israelites are on the brink of tremendous changes in their day-to-day lives. They won’t be living in their safe cocoon any longer. In the land they will live among idolaters who have brutal and immoral rituals like infanticide. The people will have to adopt agrarian practices rather than being nomadic shepherds. And they will live without the strong, sure, guiding hand of Moses.
Transitions may paralyze you from fear or prevent your adapting to new circumstances. A different life requires a new outlook along with the realization that you’ll bring previous challenges into this new environment. You don't negate the need to overcome your internal roadblocks even with a big change, such as moving or leaving military for civilian life.
Moses knew the challenges the Children of Israel would face. So he tells them to arm themselves for the change ahead and reminds them they are all accomplished people. Then, he reviews their travels through the wilderness, not as some sort of pre-Travel Channel travelogue but as a reminder and gentle rebuke of all the mistakes they made during the forty years.
The story of Devarim is about the Israelites learning how to apply the Torah’s values to a new life. It reminds you to arm yourself for the coming challenges by remembering past accomplishments. But you mustn’t fool yourself into thinking that old problems will disappear. While a change of job may rid you of a heinous boss or moving may take you to a more prosperous locality, you will still need to conquer personal challenges: insufficient discipline, a negative attitude, or lack of faith in yourself.
So often the fear you’re feeling isn’t the fear of the unknown, it’s the shock that despite having made such a big change you’re still have to overcome your same internal barriers.
Last time you made a transition, what was the most difficult part? Please comment below.
Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.
What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!