Imagine for a moment, you have been told you have only a short time left to live. After absorbing the shock of this news, you might ask yourself, “What do I do now?” What do you tell your loved ones? If you were conscious that this would be the last time you would speak to the ones you love– what would you want them to know? While you still had the chance to hold their hand, look them in the eyes and speak words that might help them in life after you would no longer be by their side. What would you want your last words to be?
This heartbreaking situation is exactly what happens to Moses in our Torah portion. Our parasha, Devarim, means Words. Moses knows his end is near. He is old and worried. Will my people be ok? They are about to go forward into the promised land, and I am unable to go with them. Who will look after them? Is there something that I can say that might help them to live a good life?
Standing at the threshold of entering the land, Moses opens his mouth and out comes 34 chapters of Torah. The entire book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ last words. His Devarim. This is a bit surprising. Previously, by the burning bush, Moses said, “Lo Ish Devarim Anochi – I am not a man of words. God, choose somebody else to be your prophet.” The Talmud asks how is it possible that this man of few words changes and becomes a man of many words? I think this is a great question because Judaism believes in people. People can change. People can break patterns of behavior. What changes Moses? The Talmud says Torah Merape – The Torah can be healing. I don’t think the sages meant this physically, like some kind of voodoo. I think they are referring to spiritual change, inner growth. Torah traditionally is always studied with others, with a chevruta – a study partner, or a chavurah – a study group. What changed Moses was being in relationship. Community helped bring out the best in him. When he finally felt ready to speak – out come a flood of ideas, insights and hopes for us – the Jewish people. Moses’ last words are loving guidance. He tells us the story – not as His-tory but our story, not as her-itage but as our narrative. Words, Devarim, for our lives.
About Moses’ last words, the Talmud gives a word play. Devarim (words) has the same letters as Devorim which means bees. Words can be like bees. We need to be careful not to use our words to sting, but to create sweetness.
My hope is that we bring out the best in each other. May we help each other to grow and change in healthy ways, like Moses. And may we be conscious of the power of words to bring sweetness to each other.