I was taught the proper way to deliver a presentation many years ago. First, you take a deep breath and face the audience. Then, you tell the group what you are going to tell them. Then, you tell them what you want them to know (or learn or feel). And then, most importantly, you tell them what you just told them. The summary of your presentation…the final thought….is what’s remembered most.
This, in my opinion, is exactly what Moses does in this week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11).
Imagine this. Moses learned from God that he would not be allowed to enter the Land of Israel. After more than forty years of putting up with a stubborn and complaining people, he only would see the final destination from atop a mountain. There his journey would end.
Moses accepted his fate and prepared to pass the baton, as any true leader would. He formulated a presentation of a lifetime; final words of wisdom – lessons for the Israelites to learn and remember – before they entered the Promised Land without him.
So how did Moses summarize? What jumps out at me is how he boosted everyone’s confidence. He reminded them of the incredible things they experienced along their journey…slavery, plagues, crossing a sea, outrunning Pharaoh’s army, manna from heaven, and on and on. “Has there ever occurred this great thing or has the likes of it ever been heard?” He wanted them to remember that, with God behind it all, they prevailed.
Then, he reiterated the Ten Commandments. Breaking them down, five commandments are between human beings and God; five are between humans and each other. They are ten parallel statements that should guide behaviors throughout an individual’s life.
And then, for the grand finale, Moses delivers the words of the Shema. The Shema is like the Jewish pledge of allegiance. It not only declares a faithfulness to God, but commits to passing the teachings from generation to generation:
“Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
“You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.
Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Thus you shall remember to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God. I am Adonai, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God:
I am Adonai your God.”
* * *
So, why this blog? For the past year, I was honored to closely work with a couple on planning a trip to Israel for their daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. We covered every detail and even held a pre-departure study session to discuss the parasha in the context of the trip.
Today, surrounded by forty-two friends and family members, Leah stood atop Masada and chanted this parasha. She was confident and prepared. She understood the significance of the day. She knew it was like a miracle to have three generations – grandparents, parents, and children – all in the Land of Israel hearing her share the words of Moses’ final presentation.
I am kvelling over how well it all went (I received an email with lovely words and pictures!) and that I was able to play a part in making it happen.
I know Leah will remember her experiences in Israel forever. My own daughter, who celebrated her Bat Mitzvah on Masada fourteen years ago, still remembers hers vividly. More importantly, I know – like it says in the Shema – they both will pass the traditions on to their children as well.