I feel really sorry for God and Moses this week. It’s something I’ve never thought about before, but it hit home by watching a car commercial.
This week we read:
15 See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil, 16 that I command you this day to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances; then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God shall bless you in the land when you go in to possess it. 17 But if your heart turn away, and you do not hear, but are drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; 18 I declare unto you this day, that you will surely perish; you will not prolong your days upon the land, when you pass over the Jordan to go in to possess it. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your descendants; [Deuteronomy 30]
There has, of course been a lot of discussion and commentary about this passage for centuries, but I want to take it in a direction which fits the season. Not Rosh Hashanah, but back to school season.
This is the time of year that many parents have to struggle with themselves, especially if it is their first born and they have no experience. For some parents in this season, it may be first grade, for some high school, and for some college. In the commercial I saw, there is another annual event that brings terror to parents everywhere: giving the car key for the first time to their child. I was in a restaurant at the time so I didn’t get the dialogue, but the visuals had me in tears. A young girl, maybe four years old, was strapped into the driver’s seat of her dad’s car. She apparently was asking for the car keys which her dad, who was looking through the open car window at her was very reluctant, giving her a lecture on safe driving. Eventually he gave the car keys, not to her, but to the 17 year old who is really behind the wheel. The point is clear, many parents have a hard time letting their children grow up, seeing them as the little child they once were. It is very hard letting them go to have their own adventures and lives. Most importantly, many parents want to protect their children, and letting kids go off on their own loses the ability to protect. Granted the world is dangerous, but one needs to let go.
This is true in any relationship. To be in a relationship means you care about the other person, and do not want to see them hurt. One will do anything to prevent the hurt. I’ve been there myself so many times. I know a lot about where I live and some of the places I frequent. I’m aware of some possible problems in the world around me, and it just about kills me to keep my mouth shut, and let someone walk into them. Yet, I have to keep my mouth shut. It kills me I cannot prevent the disappointment ahead, but it is not for me to control another person. Indeed I may hurt them more by interceding, since they will not learn.
For forty years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites were controlled and coddled. Food was provided by Manna. Drink by miraculous wells. Every time the people got into trouble, Moses would save them. With the impending death of Moses and the entry into the land, this is about to change. One very good reason that Moses was not let into the land was the same reason parents are often not allowed into schools the first day of class — it would stifle the student.
We have to risk. We have to do the wrong thing and suffer the consequences to learn why we do the right thing. God knows this and Moses, though crushingly wanting to see his people in the land and happy, also knows that going in with them will stifle them and they will not learn the lessons they need to learn. Learning is failing and then correcting. It is teshuvah. Yet, we often care so much we don’t want those we care about to fail. Think how heart breaking the ultimate version of this is: A child unable to perform for forty years, unable to leave the house without supervision. Even then they will get into trouble. To let them go after forty years would be devastating. That is what Moses must be feeling as he rattles off much of the book of Deuteronomy. Yet here, the people are given the choice of the blessing or the curse. It is theirs to decide, the point as crushing as handing that car key to a new driver for the first time. The people need to grow up.
And when we hand that key to the driver there is only one thing one can say:
19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, so that you may live, you and your descendants;
We can only tell the driver to choose to drive safely. We cannot choose for them to drive safely. Yet here, it is the people of Israel, it us, who is asked to drive safely. Here, we are reminded of that choice. We can be careless or we can be careful with the mitzvot. We can make mistakes then we can do teshuvah to correct the errors of our ways.
I remember how scary that time was when I first got behind the wheel of a car. I remember how scary it was the first day of to Kindergarten, first grade, Junior High, High School and College, Each one was a step away from my parents and I stood with the responsibility on not only keeping myself safe, but the responsibility of keeping others around me safe — particularly in that car. We are asked by Torah this week to take our responsibilities deadly seriously, not because we need to be obedient, but that someone cares about us.