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Happy are you, Israel! Who is like you? A people saved by G-dů (33:29)
Moses final words to the Israelites before his death were blessings - to each tribe as appropriate to their potential and destiny within the Promised Land, and finally to the effect that Israel would live there in security: 'Happy are you O Israel! Who is like you? A people saved by G-dů' (33:28-9).
Yet Moses knew and repeatedly emphasized that Israel would not be described in this way in the future. They would 'stray from the path' (31:29), with much greater suffering and long-term damaging effects.
Last year, a very capable and charming 11-year old student who has a very warm relationship with her scholarly parents told me that they warned her: 'We know that in two years time you will hate your father, and you will hate your mother. And we want to give you what we can before those times come'.
Indeed, G-d spoke in a similar vein to Hagar. When her son Ishmael was about to die from thirst in the blazing desert, an angel of G-d told her: 'Do not fear. G-d hears the cry of the child where he is now' (Gen. 21:17). Rashi, based on Midrashic sources, understands the words: 'where he is now' in terms of the future, when Ishmael's descendants would persecute and murder the Children of Israel. The angels wanted Ishmael to die of thirst. But G-d insisted on judging Ishmael as he was now, and performed a miracle on his behalf. The message: live in the present, and not in the future.
Taking this idea further, the present can also influence the future. Taking advantage of when the individual and the community are in the 'young enough' state to listen can be of support in the future. The declaration of love flourishes as a jewel in the memory long it is spoken. It has the additional capacity to survive numerous succeeding generations. The words of the parents to the 11-year old girl who was already showing a very determined personality would be remembered in the very circumstances when she might stray to teenage rebellion. And the encouraging words of Moses: 'Happy are you, Israel! Who is like you? A people saved by G-dů' may well have prevented yet more aberrations on the part of the People of Israel.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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