The End of the Beginning

11089.jpgWith this week’s Torah portion we begin reading the final book of the Torah. I’ll let Bible scholar Richard Elliot Friedman set the scene:

The people are at the end of a journey. They are located east of the Jordan River, at the border of their promised land, in the plains of Moab. They are about to enter a new land and a settled life. And their leader is about to die. It is no surprise that Moses tells them not to be afraid. There is every reason for them to be in need of such reassurance.

As for Moses, he knows he is about to die, and he is not accepting it with wise acquiescence. He pleads with YHWH is let him live to cross over into the land, but YHWH tells him, “Don’t go on speaking to me anymore of this thing.” And Moses gives a glorious farewell speech. It starts off unattractively to the audience, a review of history, mostly unpleasant, a criticism of the people’s unworthiness; then a lengthy list of laws, reviewing some old ones and adding many new ones; then a list of blessings and horrible curses; then a beautiful conclusion: encouraging, inspiring. And then he ends with songs.

The narrative has come a long distance from the cosmic Genesis 1. Now, for the whole of the last book of the Five Books of Moses, it is a picture of a group of people listening to the speech of a man. No seas split; no angels appear; there are in fact no miracles at all in Deuteronomy. There is rather the retelling of the miracles…

— Richard Elliot Friedman, “Commentary on the Torah,” p. 557

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