Tastes of Torah: Devarim 5780

Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22 (Triennial: 1:1-2:1)

Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1 – 1:27

This week, we begin a new book of the Torah, Devarim or Deuteronomy. The book consists of Moses’s final address to the people, after leading them through the Exodus from Egypt, the receiving of the Torah, and forty years of wandering through the desert. Now, as they stand on the banks of the Jordan river preparing to enter the Land of Israel, Moses offers his final words to the people.

In the opening of his speech, he begins with a retelling of some of the events that have occurred up to this point.

Unlike the other books of the Torah, Devarim is written entirely in Moses’s own voice. Although it repeats many of the same events and laws described in other books, Moses’s telling of the story often departs from the earlier versions. Devarim not only differs from other books of the Torah on important details, but in fact represents an interpretation of this other material. Every act of storytelling is an act of interpretation. As the storyteller, Moses chooses what to highlight and what to leave out, shaping a narrative out of a series of events. It is up to the storyteller to make meaning, and the process of storytelling itself can be transformative.

When we become aware that we are the authors of our own narratives, we might regain a sense of control. The events that happen to us and around us may not be within our control, but the story we tell about those events and the meaning we ascribe to them is up to us.

As we read sefer Devarim over the coming weeks, we might ask ourselves: what does this act of storytelling accomplish for Moses? How is he different at the end of the process than he was at the beginning? And how can we harness the power of storytelling to make the needed transformations in our own lives?