In this week’s parsha, Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11), Moses begins by telling the people of Israel how he pleaded, unsuccessfully with God, to allow him to enter the Land of Israel.
“Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan, that good hill country, and the Lebanon.” (Deuteronomy 3:25.) As he plead his case with God, now Moses hints that perhaps it was on account of B’nai Yisrael’s behaviors and actions that he is now forbidden entrance to the Promised Land.
Casting the begging aside, God’s response is swift and clear, “Enough. Never speak to Me of this matter again.” (Deuteronomy 3:26.) Spoiler alert, as many parents will understand, the harsh decree is softened by compromise as God agrees to allow Moses to ascend Mount Pisgah and see the land with his own eyes; north, south, east and west and soak it all in, though the initial ruling still stands. Moses is not going to cross over, case closed.
Immediately, Moses jumps in, full force, outlining the steps necessary for a good and long life on the land which they will inherit. He reminds them that the Torah, complete with the rules and laws, is not to be added to nor subtracted from, i.e. don’t get any ideas about new land, new rules.
Moses repeats the words of the Ten Commandments and the verses of the Sh’ma, v’ahavta, promises of punishment meted out against future generations for not adhering to the laws and rewards to those who do is the theme of this dissertation by Moses throughout the chapters.
In Chapter 6:18, we read: “Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you and that you may be able to possess the good land that the Lord your God promised on oath to your fathers …”
After all the explicit reminders and warnings regarding rule following make this verse seem superfluous. Why add this now?
Rashi suggests that this verse “implies a compromise, going beyond the letter of the law.” We witnessed a compromise with Moses laid out in the very first verses of this parasha. My hope is to live and grow Jewishly with Torah as the foundation, continually striving to do what is good and right while navigating its teachings in the modern world in which we live. Every day provides us with an opportunity for growth to achieve our highest and greatest potential, as diverse, creative, thoughtful and caring Jews. Sometimes it just takes a bit of compromise.
Cantor Laurel Barr is an independent cantor working with Celebrating Jewish Life and Menorah Park, an educator and a lifecycle officiant in the community.