The Second Telling of our Lives (D'varim)

Deuteronomy may be our most quotable book.

Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof. - Justice, justice shall you pursue.

Sh''ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad. - Hear Oh Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is one.

V'ahavta et Adodonai elohe'cha. - Love the Lord your God


But aside from containing easy to understand nuggets of wisdom and spirituality, there is much more.

Deuteronomy is a summation of the previous four books. Coming from a Greek word meaning, second telling, Deuteronomy recounts the history of the Israelite people. When talking about our fifth book of the Torah, I always think of the comedic movie Airplane, where a character is told, Tell me everything that's happened up until now. This is akin to Deuteronomy. Moses goes through a second telling of our history.

This is the 5th time that I have spoken with you about this portion. In previous years, I've explained that whereas Deuteronomy is a re-telling, it is also a kind of revisionist history, as some details are left out, some are changed, and some are added. One very clear example of this is in the re-telling of the Ten Commandments. In Exodus, the 4th commandment commands us to celebrate Shabbat because God rested on the seventh day. This is a classic example of imitateo Dei, the imitation of God. God rests on the seventh day, therefore we rest on the seventh day. But in Deuteronomy, the reason for celebrating Shabbat has nothing to do with God resting. Instead, the reason given is because God freed us from Egypt.

Deuteronomy contains all sorts of interesting examples like this.


But underlying these interesting examples from this Deuteronomical game of 'telephone' is a very powerful message about Judaism.

The very existence of Deuteronomy teaches us that Judaism depends on its history, but is not relegated to its history. Putting it another way, Deuteronomy teaches us that the Torah is meant to be a living document that is debated, taught and yes, even changed with each generation. Deuteronomy teaches us these lessons not in spite of its inconsistencies and revisions, but exactly because of them.


This beginning of Deuteronomy coincides with tonight's commemoration of Tisha B'Av, the day in which The Temple was destroyed, first in 587 CE and then again in 70 AD.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Tisha B'Av recalls many tragedies that have happened to the Jewish people. Most of them probably did not happen on Tisha B'Av, but we use Tisha B'Av as a kind of spiritual container for the destruction and tragedies in our lives.

Traditionally, one of the things we mourn on Tisha B'Av is not only the loss of the Temple, but the loss of the sacrificial system that was performed in the Temple. As you may know, our Torah is filled with all sorts of mitzvot surrounding the sacrifices. But once the Temple was destroyed, the sacrifices were no more. Instead, Jews around the world gathered in synagogues to pray, exactly as we do tonight. Many Jews pray for the coming of the messiah that will rebuild The Temple, and thus restore the sacrificial system.

I do not pray for us to move back to that time. Just as Deuteronomy re-tells the history of the Torah from a different perspective, our lives continue to change the trajectory of Judaism and Jewish life. This is one of the things that make me a Reform Jew - Judaism is constantly in a state of reformation.

As we begin Tisha B'Av tonight alongside of Deuteronomy, I do mourn for the loss of the Temple. I mourn for the many tragedies that have happened to our people. I mourn for the sinat chimam - the hatred amongst people - that still exists, both within Judaism and outside of it. But I do not lament the fact that we are living a kind of 'second telling' of the Torah.

Deuteronomy inspires us that Judaism is a religion that looks to the future more than the past. The themes of Deuteronomy teach us that we can end the sinat hinam that threatens our world, that we can have a world of peace, that we can live holy lives, and that we can enter the promised land. It's not written in the Torah, it's written in the acts of our second telling, the acts of our lives.

Rosh Hashanah Evening 5777: Tevye's Other Hand

The Destruction of the Temple is Happening Again. and Again.