This week, we begin the Book of Deuteronomy. This final book of the Torah is an oration by Moses, who is recounting the entire story of the Israelites from the Exodus from Egypt to the precipice of the Promised Land. According to our tradition, this oration was delivered in a single day to the entire community, and for the sages, the fact that Moses was heard and understood by all was nothing short of a miracle. In contemplating the nature of this miracle, we can imagine two scenarios. Both of which focus on the power of words.
The first scenario argues that a miracle enabled everyone to hear and understand the words of Moses in the same way. This scenario suggests that the language and the delivery of these words were so clear that all who heard them fully understood exactly what to do.
The second scenario suggests that the miracle lay not in the clarity of the message but, rather, in its ambiguity. Here, a miracle is reflected in that fact that a single, Jewish people could evolve from diverse opinions. This scenario suggests that the miracle was not in the moment at the mountain but rather in the passion of a people would conceptually return to that moment as a sacred reference point for all time.
The values and the knowledge we gain from Torah is the result of study, interpretation, dialogue and personal interactions with the text. The power of these ancient teaching comes from both the clarity and the ambiguity embodied in the sacred words.
As liberal Jews living in a modern world, we read the same words that our ancestors heard thousands of years ago, but like the Israelites in our story, the messages we draw from the text are not monolithic. In fact, they are as diverse and complex as the multitudes which stood at the mountain.
The fact that we, like our ancestors, can hear the same words, draw different conclusions and still maintain a sense of peoplehood is something we should recognize as sacred and miraculous. May this miracle of our people ever remain a reality as we – like our ancestors long ago – continue to hear the words of Torah in our own unique ways and translate them into the fabric of our lives.