Loving the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) has been a struggle for me.
The grammar is weird. Some verbs have unwieldy forms I’ve never see elsewhere. The narrator’s voice keeps shifting — it is and then it isn’t Moses.
Some of the narratives seem inconsistent with earlier books. In Devarim, Moses blames people for his failures. Describes himself as a peace activist. Brags about how he shares his authority.
Likely, I’ve been made cynical by the theory that King Josiah’s scribes wrote it. A theory suggested by events in II Kings 22. Josiah wanted to bolster his authority over Israelite cultural life. So, he commissioned scribes to fabricate an ancient scroll. A scroll that would look Mosaic, but emphasize the centrality of the capital city, Jerusalem, in matters of law and worship.
So, I’ve always felt Devarim was badly edited, sloppily researched, and written the night before it was due.
This year, however, I’ve changed my mind. Added another perspective. Fallen in love.
Devarim is also a work of poetry. A selectively compiled “greatest hits of Torah.”
There’s a little Bereisheet (Genesis), a reverse rehearsal of creation’s steps. Don’t represent the Divine in the image of male or female. Or in the image of a land animal. Or a flying animal. Or a fish from the sea. Don’t look at sun, moon and stars thinking you should worship them. (Deuteronomy 4; Genesis 1)
Shemot (Exodus) is summarized in five easy sentences. My ancestors came to Egypt, growing into a great nation. The Egyptians oppressed us and assigned us hard work. We called out to God, who heard us and saw us. God took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with signs and wonders. And brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey. (Deuteronomy 26; Exodus 1-15)
Holy behaviours taught in Vayikra (Leviticus) are reinforced. Don’t oppress the powerless. Be impartial in judgment. Set aside part of your harvest for the poor. (Deuteronomy 24; Leviticus 19, 23)
Wilderness adventures from Bamidbar (Numbers) are showcased. God led you through the wilderness, with its fiery serpents and parched waterless land, bringing forth water from the rock. (Deuteronomy 8; Numbers 20-21)
If I were going to present the best of Torah in 150 words, I just might use these lovely passages as a guide.
How would you sketch the Torah’s story in just a few words? Which evocative phrases would you choose?