Torah is the Foundation We Stand Upon
This week's Dvar Torah was written by Rabbi Dr. Leon Weissberg , former Director of the Leo Martin March of the Living in Miami-Dade and in Boca Raton and one of the instructors of Adult Learning/Melton & More
This Shabbat we begin the last of the Five Books, the Book of Deuteronomy or Devarim ("words" in Hebrew). The Book is primarily a review (Deuter – Greek for “repetition”) of the previous 4 books, with Moses exhorting the Israelites to remember what was set down over the previous 40 years.
Clearly, this is a new generation that was not present at Mt. Sinai and is now being commanded to recall the moment as if they had been there themselves. This is the beginning of the unique Jewish concept of passing on the heritage of collective revelation – as if we had all been there.
The reading begins on the first day of the 11th month, in the 40th year of their wandering in the wilderness. Moses, at the age of 120 years, reviews what the “children of Israel” have been through. He rebukes the people, admonishes them for some of their derelictions, and charges them to keep the Torah in the future.
Moses’ monologue lasts 36 days (with breaks for eating and sleeping presumably). It must have been a very rousing and powerful speech. Every one of the tribal leaders, their councils and the people who attended probably realized that they were hearing the end of an era and the beginning of a new age of responsibility.
Imagine hearing that speech, exhorting you to follow Torah, knowing it will be the last words offered by the single greatest prophet of Judaism, a man who communed with God and changed the course of human events forever; a man who brought forth a code of ethics and morality, that people would have to learn how to understand, develop and implement over the course of the next 3,332 years. The magnitude of this greatness is awesome!
The book of Devarim amplifies the extensive nature of what God provided mankind through the words of Torah. The lives we lead today in our culture and with our set of values were promulgated a little over 3 millennia ago and summarized in this last of the Five Books. To think that we still struggle with the same tensions around ethics and morality today just like they did then is a testament to the recognition that humankind needs a set of moral and ethical codes in order to grapple with issues that are basic to all humans.
Ethics are guiding principles that transcend one’s own beliefs of right and wrong and propose that there is an acceptable code of how to conduct oneself in daily life. As Hillel responded to an inquiring mind about the scope of Torah, “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want them to do to you . That’s the main principle of Torah -- now go and study.”