Parashat Va-et’chanan • Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11

The book of Deuteronomy is replete with Moses’ instructions for the Israelites as they face a future without their stalwart leader; for Moses himself cannot cross into the land with the Israelites. These instructions carry the weight of the entire history of the Israelite’s wandering in the desert, as Moses endeavors to send the people off with the best possible instruction. In this week’s parsha, Moses recounts the drama of the Sinai covenant to this new generation of Israelites, the centerpiece of which is a retelling of the 10 commandments, the appearance of the Sh’ma and V’ahavta prayers. 

Reading through these chapters can be trying – the constant re-telling, reminding, and Moses’ emphasis on the consequences of breaking the terms of this covenant are much harder to wade through than, say, the action-packed narratives of Genesis. While preparing this week’s parsha, however, I stumbled upon a verse that jumped out at me: “But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live.” (Deuteronomy 4:6). What a powerful reminder for us, today as in every age: to give our experiences their due and, wether cautionary or inspirational, to let the memory of our collective experiences be our guide. 

Rabbi Callie B. Schulman