Moses is presenting the covenant to the Israelites before he dies and leaves the task (of leading the Israelites into Israel) to Joshua. There’s lots of talk of blessings if the Israelites act right and curses if they don’t. And of forgiveness and welcoming back if they act wrong then repent. And there’s one paragraph that stands out, separate from the rest:
Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens…..Neither is it beyond the sea…..No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.
There’s all kinds of discussion about much of the rest of the text, but I found less about this one paragraph. “Instruction”, with the capital “I”, must be the commandments as a whole. The covenant that God is making with the Israelites, right? That’s my take based on the rest of the text.
So…” it is not too baffling”. I guess because the same commandments have been spelled out time and time again, how could anyone remain unclear? Except for the fact that, in my experience at least, the more discussion around an issue, the less clear it becomes.
If you just say and believe that the sky is blue, then it is blue. But if you bring 3 friends together with a color wheel, and you all gaze heavenward and compare the color of the sky to the colorwheel, through all of your various sets of eyes, the conversation will become more complex. Maybe the sky is light blue, or it’s gray, or it’s blue if you squint and white if you don’t, and so on. Like the Torah. What seems obvious at the first maybe isn’t so obvious if it’s repeated over and over in different voices and with differing context.
So, by the time Moses has come to the end of his days, and the Israelites have been wandering for 40 years and have died and now their children are entering Israel, perhaps all of the noise and movement have muddied the waters. Maybe sitting in my comfy bed reading Torah over the span of one year gives a clearer picture of the commandments than walking through the desert for 40 years and being told that same Torah. Maybe Moses looks at the faces of the Israelites and realizes that there is confusion there.
I think this is Moses referring to the “still small voice”. If the Israelites can sit quietly alone and consider each decision and what is the right way to turn, then the commandments will not be baffling. I think Moses is telling them that he has faith that they really do know what is right. They are capable of understanding what God wants of them if they can separate themselves from the chaos around them.
“Nor is it beyond reach” is Moses telling them that they have the power to make the right decisions and do the right thing. They are capable of acting right and they have the opportunity to make the choice to do so. It goes back to the difference between having free will and not having free will. We do have free will and we are capable of using it to do right. Moses is telling the Israelites that they can use their free will to the betterment of themselves individually and as a group.
And finally, “the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart”. Moses is being a cheer leader. He’s telling the Israelites that they do, in fact, understand what’s being asked of them and they can live right. The commandments are now ingrained in them. Like learning a foreign language….once you can think in that language you are truly fluent. So he’s jumping up and down with pom poms telling them that they should have faith in their knowledge. That it’s in their hearts and is part of them and that when they speak it will come out right.
Of course, if you read ahead, this entire theory is shot full of holes, but let’s just not read ahead. I think Moses is telling the Israelites that he trusts them and has faith in them and they should trust and have faith in themselves and walk with God (so to speak).