Near the end of his life, Moses the lawgiver gave a sermon marathon. This week begins that trilogy, which recounts key events in Israel’s 40-year journey in the desert.
Moses rebukes his people for their restlessness, misconduct and lack of faith. He encourages them to adhere to the Torah as it will be their heritage. He points out how he set up a court system to dispense justice and took the brunt of Divine anger for the rebellion of the spies. He mentions that God decreed that he was barred from entering the Promised Land, but avoids mentioning why. Perhaps he wishes to make it clear that where there is upset and anger, nothing good ensues for anybody.
The positive elements highlight how Israel succeeded in the battles against Sichon and Og. He also speaks of the settlement by the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Menashe on the East Bank of the Jordan and the plan for future battles to be led by his successor-in-waiting, Joshua.
In this way, Moses highlights his own successes near the end of his own life, against the background of failure to coalesce as a people and face their fears in the first 38 years of desert travel.
Moses was unable to lead militarily until this point because the spies prevented him from taking full charge of the people. Therefore, in the short two-year window prior to his death, a very elderly Moses led intensive battles and prepared the way for Joshua.
- Ariel Abel is padre to HM Armed Forces and rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation