The fifth book of the Torah has a different character from the other four. It consists of:
- Five discourses delivered by Moses that review and summarize the Israelites’ experience, from redemption from bondages in Egypt until they reach the border of Eretz Yisrael four decades later.
- One of the two most ancient pieces of Hebrew poetry we have in Parshat Ha’azinu. (The other is Shirat HaYam – the Song at the Sea – in Parshat B’Shallach.)
- Two narratives concerning Moses’ preparations for transition of leadership to Joshua bin Nun following his death (chapter 31), and the account of Moses’ death (chapter 34).
- Deuteronomy looks forward to Israel’s life in the Land of Israel and the fulfillment of Israel’s covenant with God, and foresees as well the pitfalls that might befall a nation attempting to establish itself, chief among them the danger of falling into idolatry. Success depends upon Israel’s ability to create – on the basis of Torah – a society in which justice and compassion prevail.
Moses’ review of the Israelites’ experience – the nation’s lifetime thus far! – is a combination life review and ethical will. Moses does not merely recount the past; he reflects upon it and offers both wisdom and warning for the future. His experience guiding Israel out of Egypt and through the Wilderness becomes the basis for Moses’ ethical will to the Jewish people.
There is a wonderful, time-honored tradition in Judaism of writing ethical wills that has fallen by the wayside, but is well worth resurrecting. An ethical will – most often in the form of a letter – is a vehicle for sharing your values, wisdom, and hopes and dreams for your loved ones, and to bestow forgiveness and blessings on them. It is among the greatest gifts you can give those you love.
Please consider writing your own ethical will. Here are some resources to help you:
Robert U. Akeret with Daniel Klein, Family Tales, Family Wisdom: How to Gather the Stories of a Lifetime and Share Them With Your Family.
Barry Baines, Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper.
Jack Riemer and Nathaniel Stampfer, So That Your Values Live on: Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them.
(c) Rabbi Amy Scheinerman