One of the goals of storytelling is to convey a narrative that endures beyond the initial story - to create something that lingers in the minds of listeners long after it has been told. In this sedra, Moses is a storyteller, transmitting the stories that took place during the 40 years in the desert. Moses is speaking to the Israelites as they make their final preparations for entering Israel. But on a deeper level, Moses, the storyteller, speaks to all of us.
Stories have always been a fundamental form of communication. They are the timeless chronicles that link us to our ancient traditions, heroes and heroines. Through stories, we share sadness, hardships and joys. Stories connect us to value systems and universal truth. Through stories, we learn about mistakes and how not to repeat them. The emotional content of stories allows the human memory to retain knowledge longer than information or facts alone. According to Daniel Goleman, science journalist and author of the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence, this is because emotional attachment to information creates learning. Perhaps Moses knew this.
So what is Moses telling us in his discourses?
In his storytelling, Moses rebukes the Israelites, and his words are a bit harsh. Moses uses history to remind the people that a lack of trust in God and a failure to obey His commandments will result in disaster, such as the consequences of believing the report of the spies. But at the same time that he censures the people, he uses select words to uplift them. He recalls the victories over neighbouring lands and kings, and proclaims that God will do battle on behalf of Israel:
Events happen in all of our lives that cannot be changed. People make decisions and experience losses that cannot be undone. The generation who were about to enter the land could not change the decisions of their fathers, and neither can we. But the ways in which these events are expressed can make a considerable difference on their effects. Moses, the storyteller, is communicating to us that despite epic blunders, God did not leave us.
Forty years of desert wanderings are coming to a close. Moses knew that his end was near and wanted to leave his people with parting words that were filled not just with admonition, but with direction, guidance and love.