11 August 2016
This week’s portion, Devarim, is the first of Deuteronomy, the final book of the Torah. Devarim means “words”, and begins, “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel.” It is a carefully constructed text, summarizing the experiences of the Jewish people during the previous 40 years. Moses, cognizant of his waning days, wastes no words.
What about us? We will hear – and say – hundreds of millions of words in our lifetimes. Are we careful with our words, measuring each for need and import? Do we note the impact of our words on our loved ones, coworkers, community? The “information age” floods us with more than we can possibly process, and at times, we hit “send” too quickly, launching the wrong words at the wrong time.
The Torah’s first story relates that the world was created through words, “And God said, “Let there be…” This weekend, with the commemoration of Jerusalem’s destruction on the 9th of Av, we should note the tradition that words of baseless hatred sealed the fate of Judea. Every person has the power to use words to create or to destroy.
Moses – who once protested to God that he was not a “man of words” – eloquently uses his words in this week’s portion to teach the new generation of leaders about the mistakes made by their parents in order that they may learn and not repeat them. We must never underestimate the power of language, for it is through words that we create history. And it is through history that we prepare ourselves for the future.