By Rabbi Michael Pont
This Shabbat, we begin a new book of the Torah – Deuteronomy or Devarim. The entire book is Moses’ farewell and charge to Israel before his death and before they entered the Promised Land. Moses began by recounting a tragedy – the incident of the spies. Just months after leaving Egypt, the people arrived at the border of Canaan. Moses appointed twelve men to survey the land and return with a report. Ten of the spies lamented Israel’s fate, saying there was no way the people could conquer the Canaanites. This led to panic amongst the Israelites and a loss of faith. As a result, the entire Exodus generation was doomed to die in the wilderness because they were unable to trust G-d. This is why our ancestors wandered for forty years.
Why did Moses open with such a painful event in our history? The incident of the spies represents a grave error with an excruciating cost. As Moses spoke here in our portion, the people were getting a second chance, and he urged them not to repeat their mistake.
In her book, Mending the Heart, Tending the Soul, Dr. Gail Albert examines each Torah portion from a psycho-spiritual perspective. Here is her take on Deuteronomy. “If we read the term, ‘Promised Land’ as a metaphor, we see it as the state of being open to G-d’s presence, letting go of our self-protective shields to be simply present to the I Am That I Am of the Divine. Again and again, the Torah teaches that (G-d) is ever present, always available; all we need to do to reach the Divine is let go of the false idols of the greedy, fearful ego and of the stories that we tell ourselves. We live in the preconceptions and habits of our self-protectiveness, in the past of ‘what was’ and in the future of ‘what might happen,’ hiding from G-d behind barriers of regret, worry, and planning. But we are rarely in the present, in the now of ‘what is happening at this moment,’ without interpretation. When we are in this state, in the brief moments of pure being, we are aware of the Divine permeating all.” (p. 278-9)
Of course, Moses is coaching us as well as our ancestors. The Israelites allowed fear to prevent them from living fully in G-d’s presence. What is keeping us from reaching our goals and entering the metaphorical Promised Land?
On a personal level, what are “the false idols of the greedy, fearful ego” that keep you from reaching your full potential? Are you afraid? Can you let go of your fears and be fully in G-d’s presence? Do you know someone struggling in this way?
Rosh Hashanah is about seven weeks away. Let’s use Dr. Albert’s metaphor as motivation for self-renewal. Let’s stop hiding from G-d, and enter the Promised Land in joy.