The wandering is over, the Jew are standing at the gateway to Canaan, Moses is recapping the forty years they have just experienced: suffering, exaltation, and the receiving of the laws by which they might become an ethical people. First and most importantly, he calls everyone together. The writer of the text going out of his way to enunciate who i standing before God: tribal leaders, elders, officials, children, wives, strangers, and the bank president and the welfare mother, the PhD. and the high school dropout, the cop and the perp, all watching, all partaking.
The trip was made with a slave generation, everyone frightened, confused, whining and complaining, few believing that the journey would end well. The continuation is to have much the same constituency: mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, those who suffer from ulcers an those who cause them, those who have nightmares and those who create them; in other words, the average Jewish congregation.
Moses says this, that hose standing at the gateway are not only those present on that day, but also those not yet born. A continent and an ocean and half a continent and another ocean have been crossed, and three thousand years have passed. Now others stand as witnesses.
Moses not sets out choices: life and change, death and stagnation: the blessing and the cruse. He said, “Choose life.”
It sounds easy, but the sages say that the Torah is not time-bound. What if Moses knew about Buchenwald and Auschwitz and said, “Choose life”? what if he knew about our change from desert nomad to city dweller, requiring a different set of laws and social contracts, then from city dweller to urban nomad, shifting country to country and armed with nothing but the laws he had given them and the extrapolation of those laws? What if MOses was like each of us, unable to foretell what might happen in five minutes or ten, the human tangle and why we must keep explaining ourselves to God, who sees and knows from everlasting to everlasting? Would he say, “Choose life”?
One of the happiest innovations going on in modern ritual, and here with us at Beth Evergreen, is the showing of the Torah and the group Aliah that brings all of us forward to see it, to know that it’s ours. The text says that this Torah isn’t secret lore, known to only a few sages. It’s ours to study, to argue over, to discuss and interpret, and it’s this freedom that raises people to a place where “Choose life” is an informed choice and not one compelled or lived on auto-pilot, without meaning. Individuals may opt out of the choice. The Jewish people cannot.
I was there, hearing the news of the bombing of Pearly Harbor, and at the opening of Dachau, and at the founding of the State of Israel, and watching when Kennedy and Martin Luther Kin were killed. I saw the Twin Towers fall. I was at Sinai, also, wondering, fearing: What next?