Vayelech- weekly Torah portion
Aesop fable of the fox and the crow is well known. It was later adapted by the Frenchman La Fontaine as well as the Russian Krylov, who published their own versions of the fable. For those who do not recall it goes something like this: one day the crow caught in his beak a nice slice of cheese. A fox, that happened to pass by, smelled the cheese and fancied it. The crow was high on the tree top and the fox firm on the ground. Therefore the fox uses some sweet talk and flatters the crow, “crow, oh crow, let me hear your beautiful song”. The crow, not really known for its musical qualities falls for the flattery, and begins singing. The piece of cheese falls to the ground just to be devoured by the hungry fox. The moral of the story is simple, while flattery is nice to hear it can be very costly. What is missing from the fables as Aesop and others tell us is what followed a few days later. The same crow got a hold of another fine slice of cheese and was up the tree again. The fox sensing that some sweet talk will do the trick again makes a second attempt at it. The crow watches him angrily and while tightly clasping on the piece of cheese with his beak he mutters towards the fox, “I have heard this one before, I have heard it before!” It seems flattery can take you so far and even a crow can learn a lesson pretty fast.
In some ways Moses faces the same situation and must find a solution to it. He receives an order to put the cheese in the Israelite’s mouths, “Now therefore, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it on their lips, so that this song may be a witness for Me against the sons of Israel. For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous”. However, he also know way to well that all of this goodness will drop out of their mouths and then the People “will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant.” The memory of the song, the memory of the cheese, in a sense, will be that which will also be their savior, as “it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants”. Moses adds his own words coming from his bitter feelings of what has happened to him and advises “the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, ‘Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you’.” He warns the Israelites, “For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more, then, after my death?... For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands.” Moses does not attempt to flatter them in his last address but calls a spade a spade, cautions them of the price that may have to be paid as a result, but also instills some hope that goes beyond the immediate times.
Moses at the end of his life could have chosen to flatter his people but decides to take a different path. While speaking of hope, giving the recipe to circumvent the difficulties, that cheese that they so desperately will need, and at the same time warns them from what may happen because they may well be dropping the fine slice of cheese that they are barely holding to. They may suffer as a result but there is always hope to find that which was lost once again, it is in their hearts and mouths, so that they can continue to move forward properly. It happens to us way to often where we fall for sweet talk, fall to our hubris, trapped by shortsightedness, letting things drop to a point where it is difficult to return to our initial state. On the other hand we are also give hope, we must remember it, we must recognize that we have the sound foundations that we can go back to, learn them again, find another route, and remember, just like the crow from our fable, that we really already know this.
This Shabbat is also called Shabbat Shuva (שבת שׁוּבָה) after the first word of the Shabbat’s Haftarah from the book of Hosea, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.” We fall for the flattering words we may be listening to, think that we are better than others and things can never happen to us, we are smarter than others and we can outsmart them without paying the price, we forget to hold on to what we already have, and loose it all. During these days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur it is important to revist Moses leadership, to point out our failures as human beings that will surely come to haunt us one way or another, and at the same time point out towards sources of hope. Hosea says this, “For the ways of the Lord are right, And the righteous will walk in them, But transgressors will stumble in them.” There are many ways of the Lord, not only one, but it is only the righteous that will be able to walk them properly. The same ways yield different results and we must choose to walk them rightly.
Shabbat Shalom and Chatima Tova.
Reuven Marko, 14 September 2018, 6 Tishrei, 5779