The LORD our God said to us at Horeb, "You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates." Deuteronomy 1:6-7
The Torah portion for this week is Davarim, which means "words," from Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 1:1-27.
This week, we begin the final of the Five Books of Moses Deuteronomy. The entire book is comprised largely of Moses' farewell speech to the children of Israel. In just 36 days, Moses would no longer be alive, and he wanted to give the people some final instructions and encouragement. He began by reviewing the past 40 years in the desert.
In verses 6 and 7 of the first chapter, Moses recalled how after they had been living near Mt. Sinai for almost a year, God told the Israelites that it was time to leave. The Jewish sages explain that the Israelites had achieved great spiritual accomplishments while living in the shadow of Sinai.
It was there that they received the Bible and there that they built the Tabernacle, God's temporary dwelling place. They subsisted on the God-sent holy food of manna and were protected by the divine cloud of glory. If the Israelites were doing so well at Mt. Sinai, why did God tell them to leave and go to Canaan?
The answer is because life was never meant to be lived purely on a spiritual plane. Yes, God intends for us to live a spiritual life, but in the physical realities of our world. Moreover, God's plan for us is to live a life of holiness through the material world, elevating all things physical to holy purposes. This is why God sent the Israelites packing toward the land of Canaan, where all the miracles would cease and real life would begin.
This is similar to the situation Noah was in when it became time to leave the ark that had sheltered him and his family through the storm. God had to order Noah to leave the ark. Why? Because Noah felt safe in the ark. He felt protected and close to God. He knew that inside the ark, everything would be all right, even if things were difficult. Once Noah left the ark, he would have to go back to "normal living," and that was a frightening prospect for Noah.
Sometimes, we are moved to change things in our lives, such as a job, a home, a relationship, or a community, because the situation that we are in is not a comfortable one. It's easy to see that we need to leave and take steps toward a better future, even if leaving is hard. However, it is more difficult to make a change in our lives when everything seems so comfortable. Sometimes God speaks to our heart, and we know that we should step out in faith into a new opportunity, but we are afraid.
But, just as the Israelites needed to go when it was time to leave, we must have courage and do the same. We must be willing to leave behind our comfortable surroundings so that we can get beyond our current situation to an even greater destination.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President