Early in Deuteronomy, we find a verse of Torah that I can’t help but read with a bit of humor. In Deuteronomy 1:6, we read: “Adonai our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying: You have stayed long enough at this mountain.” I imagine a cynical Israelite responding: “We have stayed here long enough, have we? Nu? Let’s go.”
It is an odd phrase for God, creator of the universe, freer of the Israelites, source of truth to say to our ancestors as they stood at Horeb (aka Sinai). In the first four books of Torah, we learn how God created the world, how God instructed Avram to go forth, how God sent our ancestors to Egypt, how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, how God parted the Sea. During Pesach, we sing the words of Dayenu acknowledging God’s role in every part of our history. Why then does God say that the Israelites have stayed too long at Sinai? If it has been long enough couldn’t God have instructed our ancestors to go sooner?
Our Midrash answers with the idea that this translation is faulty. Instead of, “You have stayed long enough ...” Sifrei Devarim 5:2 interprets this phrase (rav lachem) as, “There has been abundant reward while you have stayed ...” This Midrash tells of God’s acknowledgement of the abundance of rewards that our ancestors received at Sinai. We received Torah, our eternal source of wisdom. We built the mishkan, our place of communal gathering. We created a system of governance that civilizations have copied ever since. Our time at Sinai is overflowing with rewards that we still feel and from which we benefit today.
This statement from God also exhibits a new tone and theology that we encounter in Deuteronomy where we find that Torah is deeply connected to the human experience. Torah doesn’t say that God kept the people at Sinai, nor does it say that Moses kept the people. It says: you have stayed. It is our actions that affect our own narrative, and it is our involvement that carried us into the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership.
Each day, we have the opportunity to find ourselves in a world filled with abundance and we have the obligation to see our role in shaping the world. Our tradition places us firmly at the center of God’s work in perfecting our world and when we acknowledge our impact and act on Torah’s divine wisdom, we will find lives of meaning filled with gratitude. As my fictional Israelite said, “Nu? Let’s go!”
Rabbi Chase Foster is the rabbi for engagement and learning at jHUB.