The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is Devarim and is found in Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22. In this parasha we begin the book of Deuteronomy, or Devarim, which, in Hebrew, means “words”. In Numbers or Bamidbar (“in the wilderness”), we end with the people getting ready to enter the land of Israel. They pause at the border where Moses will not be crossing over with the people; therefore, he gives his last sermon to the people, invoking them to be faithful to God. The entire book of Deuteronomy is that sermon. It is essentially a retelling of the history of the wilderness years, a review and elaboration of the statutes and ordinances of the Torah, Moses’ final blessing, and his death. This parasha’s subject is history. Moses begins by describing how he appointed judges and officers to help him lead the people, and then he reminds the Israelites about what happened the first time they were about to enter the land. After the spies’ report caused the people to panic and refuse to continue, God decreed that the generation of the Exodus would die in the wilderness. God also decreed that Moses would not enter the land, either.
In retelling this history and sharing his reflections, Moses attempts to prepare the people for uncertainty ahead, for changes in leadership (i.e., Joshua), and for their continued existence as a people who are ready to settle down in a land, rather than simply pass through. What Moses is hoping the people will understand is that, although the journey in the wilderness is ending, they are really simply entering a new journey, one that will be just as difficult and will try their patience. The lessons they have learned in the journey through the wilderness have prepared them for the experiences and lessons they will encounter in their journey in settling the land. They only need to remember. This week, as we go forward to the tasks and duties that await us, let us remember that we have nothing to fear for the future, except as we forget how God has led us in the past.