Our past holds the key to understanding the present
This week we read the Song of Moses, one of Moses’ final speeches to the Children of Israel before his death. The only other words Moses speaks to the nation after this are the words of blessing in Deuteronomy Chapter 33. But in Deuteronomy Chapter 32, Moses composes a long poem in which he praises God, discusses His relationship with His people, and reviews historical events, some of which are revealed prophetically to him but have not yet occurred.
I would like to focus on two verses, each of which carries messages which speak to me in an especially relevant way.
Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations. (Deuteronomy 32:7).
Moses instructs his people to remember their history. In referring to the days of old, he hearkens back as far as Creation – remember the events of the universe from its very beginnings. Understanding the years of a generation implies a deeper comprehension of events, of people, of their actions, and the consequences of those actions.
Moses understood what so few people understand today – that we are unable to understand our present if we don’t understand our past. If we don’t understand the ways of nature and the origins of the universe, and especially the fact that the universe was created by God, we will never be able to comprehend our role as human beings – to serve our Creator. And if we don’t evaluate the events of history, the expectations God has from the Jewish people and from all peoples, His judgment over us, and the consequences of our actions, then we will be doomed to failure every time.
The second verse that I find meaningful is Deuteronomy 32:15: “But Jeshurun (a name for Israel) grew fat and kicked… then he forsook God who made him.”
This verse echoes a set of verses in Moses’ earlier speeches to the nation:
“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statuetes, which I command you today. Lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied. Then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14)
As the Children of Israel are about to enter the Land of Israel, Moses warns them of the dangers of prosperity. Even as prosperity is promised as a reward for obeying God’s word, it can become a double-edged sword.
When life is good and blessings are abundant – then it is easy for Israel to forsake God, to forget that the source of our blessings is His generosity. When we are in trouble, it is natural to cry out for help. But when things are good, we tend to brag and attribute our success to our efforts alone. We forget that it is God who has blessed us that it is He who created us, and to Him, we owe our gratitude.
If all of Israel, if all of the world, would turn to Him in the height of prosperity, the world would be a better place. The western world is a wealthy world and a secular world indeed.
If all of Israel remembered the lessons of history, even our own recent history with regard to our conflict with the Arabs, and if our entire nation remembered that it is God who has created us and who is responsible for our blessings, we would all hold on to the gift He has given us and never let go. We would all treasure Biblical Israel forever.
Shabbat Shalom from Samaria,
Director, Israel Office