Have you ever noticed how a story’s details can morph slightly from telling to telling? It’s a trick of our memory that these details change as we gain (or lose) perspective on a particular event. Often laden with emotion, we can layer over details with shades of judgment, interpretation and even change entire meanings of a particular scenario. This week we begin our fifth and final book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, which is a review of all that happened to the Israelites during their journey from Sinai to the Promised Land; as remembered by Moses.
In this week’s parsha, D’varim, Moses begins to recount the story slightly differently than we read it in the book of Numbers. He is older, approaching the end of his life, and he knows that he cannot enter into the Promised Land with the Israelites. From this perspective, his recollection of past events is understandably laden with emotion, and not without a strong dose of judgment. We, moderns, have the luxury of being able to flip back in the Torah to the first hand accounts of these stories, to compare and contrast, but what must this retelling have felt like for Moses?
What does it mean for us that our tradition includes this second-hand reflection, full of interpretation and potentially mis-remembered details? It is to be read as part of a whole, for sure, and perhaps teaches us that the memories of our ancestors, emotionally laden as they may be, are as important for our understanding of who we are as the straight-forward first-hand narrative, which may lack that layer of emotional interpretation. Both are important for they tell us where we have come from, and potentially clue us in about where we are heading.
– Rabbi Callie B. Schulman