“Behold, I have set the land before you; go in and possess the which the Lord swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give to them and their seed after them” Deuteronomy 1:8


Standing on the banks of the Jordan, emerging from crisis upon crisis, the Israelites are about to cross over. A generation on from those who stood at the foot of the mountain, they listen intently as Moses recalls the adventures and misadventures of the last 40 years.

They have fought and lost and, they have fought and won. They have battled with themselves, one another, with God and the inhabitants of the lands they have passed through. They have survived hunger and thirst and spiritual and political turmoil. They have endured the death of those they loved and welcomed into the world a new generation. And now, poised on the banks of the river, they are being asked to consider who and what they want to become.

The journey through the wilderness has been a journey of formation: the formation of political, spiritual and national identity. Leaving Egypt as a mixed multitude, a generation of wandering has invited the Israelites to think deeply about how to be in relationship with God and one another. And now they are being asked to consider how they will forge their relationship with the land.

The immediate crisis of the desert wandering may have passed as they gaze at the land God promised a short distance away across the river, but crisis will rear its head once more if the people are unable to seize this opportunity for reflection and decision.

Their history and its lessons lie behind them and, as Moses is at pains to make clear, not all decisions taken were either healthy or helpful. They turned their back on God and one another many times. They frequently failed to appreciate the bigger picture, to take the long view. Emerging from the wilderness they are standing here as a community readying to cross into a new land. This is their moment of transformation, a moment to reflect and learn, and to build a world of right relationship, with one another, with the earth and with God.

rabbi kath vardi


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