Drash on Parashat Devarim: Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22
Rabbi Em Mueller, Sim Shalom On-line Synagogue
Two interesting things happen this week: We mourn the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem in 580 BCE and 70 CE, among our many other calamities; and we begin the Book of Deuteronomy. What do these two occurrences, which most often are paired together in the calendar, have in common?
Interestingly, this Torah portion contains our annihilation – the killing of men, women, and children – of two different peoples. Of course there are reasons: In chapter 2, the King of Heshbon would not let us pass through his territory. Why? Because God had hardened his heart. We also annihilated the men and women and children of Bashan.
So on the one hand, we are mourning the destruction of our most sacred site, and we are reading of our extermination of two other peoples. Rabbi Reuven Firestone sees us as both victim and perpetrator.
Some of our Rabbis have said that the massacres are metaphors, symbolizing the impediments we may have to prayer and to studying Torah.
Rabbi Donniel Hartman, in Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself, calls on us to reject the notion that God favors one particular faith tradition or people. He says “a faith tradition that claims a monopoly on God-truth can easily cross a red line. Think ISIS, doing violence in God’s name, or Jewish extremists setting fire to Arab-Jewish schools. The acts are the work of “god-intoxicated people.”
Once again we are struggling with the contradictions in our tradition and in our sacred literature. Why choose one path and not the other? I’ve always believed we search for an answer until we find one that fits our world view. If you want to hate, there is plenty in the bible and in this world to fuel hatred. And if you want to love, there is also plenty in the bible and in this world to fuel love. We are one again left with a choice. At times like this, when a choice needs to be made, I choose to follow that one sentence in Torah which we read during the Days of Awe: “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, if you and your offspring would live, by loving Adonai your God, heeding his commands, and holding fast to God.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
It’s an easy mantra to hold fast to: Choose life — choose goodness — choose blessing.
May you fill this week with an energy that brings life and goodness and blessing.