God gives Moses a song/poem to be read to the people. It recounts Israel’s past emphasizing the help of the Eternal. Then, it foretells the future consequences when the people stray from worship of God.
In last week’s text we read that Moses gave the Israelites two documents that were to be read to the people:
First the “Teachings” – although it is never stated what this “teaching” is, it is generally understood to be the book of Deuteronomy which includes the Discourses of Moses which detail the Covenant between the Eternal and the people plus the laws and commandments of God. To make sure that the people do not forget these “Teachings,” they are to be read to the people during the Feast of Booths of the Sabbatical year.
The second document, which takes up the bulk of this week’s parsha, is presented in the form of a song/poem – The Song of Moses.
The first part of the poem, after a short introduction, covers the Israelites’ past telling how God was always with them. God formed and created the world…. Then, separated the peoples into nations…. God saw the Israelites suffering and watched over them, providing for their needs, and delivering them to their own plentiful land.
The middle of the poem tells how the people “grew fat and kicked… They forsook the God who made them… They sacrifice to demons, no-gods. Gods they have never know …..” This angered the Eternal.
The Eternal said, “I will hide My countenance from them.” Then God sent the curses that were foretold. There would be “wasting famine, ravaging plague, deadly pestilence, and fanged beasts.” The Israelites will be overrun by other nations and forced to disperse.
In the final verses of the song/poem God states that the enemies of Israel should not be confident and say “Our own had has prevailed; None of this was wrought by the Eternal…. The Eternal had given them (the Israelites) up.”
But in the end God will remember his people when they return and repent their paths of error. The Eternal will then heap destruction upon these peoples, thus vindicating “God’s people and take revenge for God’s servants.
In the final verses of the song Moses ends with an upbeat message, “O nations, acclaim God’s people! For [God] will avenge the blood of His servants, wreak vengeance on His foes, and cleanse His people’s land.”
The Eternal saw this future and commanded Moses to “write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel, put it in their mouths, in order that this poem may be My witness against the people. When I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey that I promised on oath to their fathers, and they eat their fill and grow fat and turn to other gods and serve them, spurning Me and breaking My covenant, and the many evils and troubles befall them – then this poem shall confront them as a witness, since it will never be lost from mouth of their offspring. For I know what plans they are devising even now, before I bring them into the land that I promised on oath.” (Deut. 31:19-21)
This poem/song is to be remembered by the people for two major reasons. First as a warning of what would happen if they lost faith in the Eternal and turned to other gods….. And, second, to remind them that they should never forget their history. They may be rich and successful… but, this success was built on the efforts of both the Eternal and their ancestors.
Throughout Torah we are told to remember. The Hebrew word zachar (remember) is found no less than 169 times, commanding us to remember and not forget. The process of remembering takes two different paths. First, we remember by celebrating holidays – Pesach (Exodus), Sukkot (Travels in the Wilderness), Shavout (Giving of the Ten Commandments) help us remember – and relive our history as stated in Torah. Modern events are remembered through Yom HaAtsmaut (Israeli Independence Day),
and Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).
A second path to recalling our heritage is through rituals which include… Reciting prayers… reading Torah (including the poem of this week’s Parsha)… attending temple services and activities… and adhering to traditions.
Through constant remembering of the past and the lessons it teaches, we can become aware of what may happen in the future given similar events. History can be an important teacher.
Pincus Peli (1930-89 – Prominent Israeli educator) noted that this process of remembering can also be a source of “constructive pride” …. Through this process of remembering, the modern Jewish community can absorb ethical values and set standards of behavior. Also by viewing past events we can create successful models, guidelines, and goals.
And lastly, by remembering the past, we build a foundation for the future. This process of remembering is the responsibility of both the parents and the school systems of our temples. To insure a healthy Jewish future, we all must remember.