Devarim: A story is a powerful instrument for overcoming despair

Chaverim,

In the first portion of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses begins a series of farewell addresses to the Israelites. The task before Moses is an enormous one; he wants to remind the Israelites of what came before—interpreted now through his perspective—and he wants to give them a vision for the future. He is entirely aware that the way he structures time in his presentation is extremely important in passing on the faith. He must help the Israelites place all they have experienced, all they expect to experience and all they will actually experience within the framework of a story—the story of God’s relationship with them.

Like a parent parting from his adult children, Moses knows that things will not always be easy for them. How can he forewarn them of the difficulties ahead without destroying their faith? The only tool Moses has at this moment is story, but story is a powerful instrument for overcoming despair, unifying a people and offering hope.

Just like Moses, we pass on the tale of our people— our story—to our children. And the generations before us have passed it along so that in every time and location—and at every trial—we have the story of our people and our relationship with God to help us make sense of what we must face and to give us the strength to do that.

When we try to enter into the full experience of D’varim , we think of the many forces that have shaped our own children and how we hope our values will be predominant. The frightening moment comes when we realise we have said all we can say. Now we must bless and release. We turn back to our portion and find that Moses is ahead of us showing us how: “Do not fear them, for it is the Eternal your God who will battle for you”. It is not up to us to complete the task, and so, with trust that we have made a good beginning, we and Moses bless and release.

– Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Dr. Carol Ochs)

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