A Thought for the Week
"Today you have become a people." (Devarim 27; 10). Why only today? Moshe spoke these words to the Jewish people after forty years of remarkable Jewish history that took place in the desert. "HaYom! Today, for the first time, I call you a people." In Egypt we were persecuted for over two centuries only because we were a people. Forty years before the passing of Moshe we received the Torah on Mt. Sinai because we were a people. Amalek attacked us from behind in the desert because we were a people. We built a Mishkan in the desert, walked through the sea and ate Manna - only because we were a people. So what happened today? Why at the end of Moshe's life did he finally tell us, "Today - you have become a people"?
Rashi explains: Moshe gave a Sefer Torah to the leader of every tribe in Israel. But first he gave a Sefer Torah to the heads of Levi and told them to put this Torah next to the Aron Kodesh. Alarms went off throughout the Jewish camp. Hundreds of thousands of Jews began a whispering rebellion. Why did he give the Torah to Levi? Why does Moshe favor his own tribe? Why aren't we getting one? We were all present at Mt. Sinai; the Torah belongs to all of us! If they would have waited just a little bit they would have all received their very own Torah, but they couldn't wait - instead they gathered impatiently before Moshe and complained about the unfairness. Moshe smiled. "Today", he said, "I see you really are a people!" Their argument was ridiculous. Obviously G-d gave them all the Torah. Over and over G-d said, "Speak onto all the children of Israel." Yet although it was silly Moshe felt that it was important. Although unfounded it made Moshe smile.
Moshe was an astute observer of his people. He saw them touch the sky and he saw them sink beneath the Earth. He saw them pray to G-d and he watched them rebel against Him. Moshe understood that to get a correct reading on the people it couldn't be at the moments of high and low. Mt. Sinai was not a normal situation nor was the golden calf. These were historical moments. Moshe needed to see a normal, everyday, human reaction. He needed to see some everyday envy in order to know what his people held important and what they really were. He needed to know if the Jews would be protective of their Torah when G-d's voice is not booming down at them, when there are no clouds, thunder and lightning. Today was the day. For a fleeting moment the Jews thought they were losing their Torah and they blew up! Tremendous, said Moshe. Today you are a people!
Life is not judged by its great moments nor is it defined by moments of weakness. Real life is defined by what is important every day, by what we value and by what we protect.
Love in a marriage is not determined by one's behavior under the Chupa, or at a moment of discord. It's the day by day reactions, agreements and disagreements that define a marriage.
Our own year is not defined by our behavior at Ne'ila or on Purim. It's how we act in everyday our offices and at home, and what we argue about over a cup of coffee, that indicates what we really are.
Moshe understood that as the sea split,
and as G-d spoke, everyone would be a believer; but he still wasn't
sure if we would hold strong when all we had to draw upon was ourselves.
In our silliness we passed the test! The argument was ridiculous, but the
message it sent was clear. We wanted our Torah. "Today - you are a
people." That is real.
Rabbi Haber is the OU's National Director of Jewish Education and the spiritual leader of the OU's Pardes Program
Comments and questions are very welcome
"A tree of life for those who embrace it"