Dvar Torah ~ Devarim ~ 4 Av 5780 / 25 July 2020
Intertextuality is a term that describes how one part of the Bible interprets, explains and responds to another part of the Scriptures. While the Rabbis of Talmud read the Bible as if it were one text, we are better served to read the Bible as a compilation of books and spiritual perspectives that collectively become a divine symphony (Knohl). Still, we can see where one part comments on another.
Two example from Genesis and Exodus occur in our Torah portion where Moshe recollects the Wilderness experience.
In Genesis, “The Eternal God called to the human and asked, ayekah, אַיֶּֽכָּה, where are you?” (3.9) Here in Devarim 1.12: אֵיכָ֥ה", eikhah, how can I bear you….” While they seem different in meaning, Moshe is speaking at a time of great personal and national uncertainty about the future. Even as he recounts the past, he is also asking his people “where are you?”
As we stand during Coronavirus, as we stand before Tisha b”Av, we also ask: Where are you? This important question is addressed to us every day, but it is particularly apt at this time. It also reminds us that there is value in learning how to personalize the Torah.
It is possible to read entire Torah in a personal way. Prof. Arnold Eisen who just stepped down as Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, wrote Taking Hold of Torah, which presents the Torah as if it were the book of our lives, sefer hahayyim.
Genesis tells of the beginnings of life, of births, families and their complicated growth. Exodus is about leaving, establishing a covenant (perhaps marriage) and building a home.
Leviticus is what we do in the middle of our lives. We establish rules and structure—ritual and ethical—to direct our lives. Numbers is also about mid-life, about the plans that we make, the way we want to go forward, and how life sometimes goes “sideways.” And
Deuteronomy, of course, is about a final legacy before death.
My second example of intertextuality is now appropriate. When Moshe is initially called by God, he (like all prophets) resists the mission. “I’m not a man of words דְּבָרִ֜ים(Ex 4.10).” But Deuteronomy begins, “These are הַדְּבָרִ֗ים the words which Moshe spoke to all Israel.” Moshe has gone from an incapacity to speak a series of sermons.
What made difference? Moshe developed a sense of mission. He didn’t have a plan about his life. But life (and God) called and inspired him.
So we ask today: What will be your mission? You may be a young person, seeking your path in life. You may be more mature, with family and significant responsibilities. But each of us, particularly this year, specifically as we prepare for Tisha b’Av, should be asking how we might make a difference, what words do we have to articulate? What tasks do we need to take on? Ayeka? Where are you?