Parshat Devarim: A people on the cusp of a milestone


By Rabbi Sarah Tasman

Rabbi Sarah Tasman
(Courtesy of Rabbi Sarah Tasman)

Devarim (Words), begins the fifth and final book of the Five Books of Moses. It is the beginning of the end of the Torah, a time of preparing for the upcoming transitions and milestones that the Israelites have been moving toward since leaving Egypt back in the book of Exodus. It is a retelling of the 40 years wandering in the desert.

As Devarim opens, the Israelites are on the cusp of a major transition, individually and as a community. The Israelites are almost ready to enter the land that has been promised to them by God. They know some of them will stay behind, namely Moses; that some have already died in the wilderness; and that others will follow Joshua as their new leader into the next chapter of their story as a people.

We read Devarim every year as the wheel of the Jewish calendar starts to turn us closer to the Jewish New Year. Devarim provides a frame for the personal and communal work we need to do before we arrive at the High Holidays. Devarim is an invitation to consider what we’ve been through, where we are now, where we’re going and how to get from here to there with intention. We have the chance to reflect on the journey we’ve been through in the past year.

As we go through the book of Devarim, we notice who will enter the next chapter of the journey, and who will not. So, too, on Yom Kippur do we acknowledge in the Unetaneh Tokef liturgy that not everyone will make it through this year. Some will pass on, and we will experience and mark those losses individually and as a community.

During this time of transition in the Jewish year, we have a chance to reflect on and retell the stories of what has happened to us in the same way that Devarim reflects on and retells the stories of what the Israelites have been through. Devarim reminds us that we have a chance to release or reclaim the influence or impact our experiences have had on us, to redefine how our greatest challenges can become our greatest accomplishments, and to remind ourselves of the support we have around us or deep within us.

In Deuteronomy chapter 1, verses 10-11, the Torah tells us, “God has multiplied you until you are today as numerous as the stars in the sky. May the God of your ancestors increase your numbers a thousand-fold, and bless you as promised.”

This is a blessing to the entire community who has grown. As we take the time to notice how we have grown in the past year, so may we be blessed. And may we be blessed in our continued growth in the year to come.

Rabbi Sarah Tasman is director of Jewish journeys and engagement at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

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