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Devar Tora for Va-eth`hanan

07/24/2021 10:37:59 AM


Anne Lowe

This parasha is jam-packed with admonitions and rules from Moses to the Jewish people who have been wandering in the desert for nearly 40 years. They are about to cross the Jordan River and finally reach the promised land, “flowing with milk and honey” (6: 3).  But even as Moses tells them how their lives must be conducted for generations to come, it is a bittersweet passage, for it begins with Moses pleading with the Lord, once again, to be able to go into Canaan. Such chutzpah!  But how many of us, as children, have also pleaded with our parents even after they have said “no” to us?  Even Moses was human, and hoped that the Lord would relent and change His mind.  


It is interesting that the passages read, “But the Lord was wrathful with me on your account and would not listen to me (3:26).” Moses puts the blame of his not going into Canaan onto the Jewish people. Is this where Jewish guilt first started?  Moses is assigned to a lonely death on Mt. Pisgah, while the children of Israel are able to go into the holy land. Wow! What a guilt trip!  I don’t think too many Jewish mothers can top that one!


And speaking of Jewish mothers, a group into which I fall, I want to share with you something I wrote about this chapter many years ago. In fact, some of you may remember it as one of the first times I brought a prop with me when I gave a D’var Torah. It is my infamous M & M ‘s story.


Moses had just spent over forty years dealing with a stiff-necked people, and petitioning the Lord whenever they strayed to have mercy and understanding for that recalcitrant group. He had devoted a huge portion of his life to being a wandering Jew in the desert. And yet, the reward that he sought, that of crossing the Jordan River to step foot in the land of Israel, was denied to him.


Let me digress a minute, and talk about a different kind of reward. When my daughter Caren was two and a half years old, and my son Jonathan was five, I decided it was time to potty train Caren. All the rage that year was a new book that claimed you could teach a child to use the potty in one day! I bought the book and read it from cover to cover. I set out to make it work. I introduced Caren to her own potty seat, and told her that every time she used it, she would get an M&M. But better still, everyone else in the house would also get an M&M when she used it. So now I had my son Jonathan and my husband asking her whenever they saw her, “So, you gotta go, Caren?”


It took 1 and ½ days to train Caren and one big bag of M & M’s. My smart son recruited his other five year old friends, too, so the M & M’s were a neighborhood reward! Poor Caren had quite an audience that day!


So this is a very definite, gastronomical reward. But what was Moses’ reward? 


I have always been taught that there is a Talmudic saying that goes, “The reward for the deed is the doing thereof.” In other words, the satisfaction of performing a good deed is its own reward. Well, I think Moses must have had a huge good feeling for all the work he had done on behalf of his people. And maybe his reward, since it was not that of attaining a personal piece of land in Canaan, was actually the immortality he has achieved for all that he performed in his life. Why are we speaking of him today, thousands of years after the fact?


Is it because good deeds are everlasting? If you are beneficial to your fellow man, or take care of the planet, or teach someone a skill so they can be self-sufficient, are you not planting the seeds of continuity for people and the world? Is this not a reward to savor? 


When you help someone, do you not feel at peace? Your endorphins increase, the serotonin flows, and you have created a personal therapy that has no price, no touch, no shape. But it is your reward. One can only hope that Moses felt this as well. A few years ago, I wrote a poem about Moses that I will share with you now.


My name is Moses

Brother to Miriam and Aaron

You may have heard of me

If so, I am rewarded


I battled with Pharaoh

To let my people go

Stiff-necked people plagued me

With Canaan, I was not rewarded


I pled with my Lord

Let me step foot 

In the Promised Land

This, I was not rewarded


In anger I whacked a rock: Twice

To get water, but once would have sufficed

For this breach of faith in my Lord

I was punished, not rewarded


Not so easy: leading millions through a desert

Not so easy: begging for a reward

Not so easy: being Moses

If you know my name, I am rewarded


So, to end this D’var, I will pull out my bag with props for today. As you can see, once again I have brought little packs of M&M’s for you all. Since we are not allowed to eat here in the J, I will give you each a bag of M & M’s, as you leave today, for your trip home. This is your reward for sitting through one more of my Divrei Torah.  And you don’t even have to go potty to get this reward!


Thu, December 2 2021 28 Kislev 5782