Torah from Around the World #175

by Rabbi Uri Lam,

Sociedade Israelita da Bahia

(SIB / Jewish Society of Bahia, Brazil)

Only those who live a known life, becomes older, distinct from the species among they live

. (“The Bee”, Fernando Pessoa)

The weekly portion which opens the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) contains in itself an intriguing peculiarity: since Moses assumed the leadership of the people of Israel, this is the first time that we don’t hear the statement, “

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying …

” The last book of the Torah begins with “And these are the words that Moses spoke to all the [people of] Israel.”

Earlier, Moses used to feel unsure of his mission: “

I beseech Thee, Lord, I am not a man of words … because I am slow of speech and tongue trembling

” (Exodus 4:10), and God answered: “

Go now, I will be with thy mouth and teach thee what thou shalt say

” (Exodus 4:12). And so it was. God said to Moses the commands that he should convey to the people. Moses was then, perhaps, more a boss than a leader.

For nearly forty years, Moses contributed in the transformation of a group of people who were split into tribes into a cohesive group of people, always under the direct guidance of God, where the Israelites built bonds of trust and wrote a collective story. During this collective journey they fought against external enemies and faced infighting, during which they saw leaders as Korach and their allies dying, as well as Miriam and Aharon; and they saw other leaders arising, as Yehoshua bin Nun and the controversial Pinchas. A life together, where the leadership was gradually being delegated from God to Moses, and from him to thousands of other leaders trained to meet the people’s needs.

We read in a Midrash (Devarim 1) that Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman derives from “devarim” (words) the idea of “devorim” (bees) and tells us: “Said the Holy One, blessed be He: My kids behaved like bees in the world, by the hands of the righteous and the prophets.” It was and is a great challenge, to lead people so sweet as honey, who work as a team; but it’s a real challenge to lead those whose sting is always ready to cause pain.

The People of Israel grew old, and so did Moses. The “boss” has become a leader who can speak to the people in their own words, so responsive and precise. As a good teacher, Moses reminded the people from where they traveled, the difficulties and challenges they overcame. He himself went through a rigorous process of self-knowledge, aged with distinction and, according to Maimonides, became an incomparable prophet and leader. By his own words, Moses led the people to their destination. And his words follows guiding, teaching and leading us to our own destinies as the Jewish People, to the present day.

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