Home > Divrei Torah > Parashat Devarim: To our Children’s Children’s Children (With apologies to the Moody Blues, 1969)

Parashat Devarim: To our Children’s Children’s Children (With apologies to the Moody Blues, 1969)

July 13, 2010

By Simon Rosenbach

My father left social work in early 1951 to sell life insurance in New Jersey for a wonderful (and now defunct) company called the New England Life Insurance Company. Eventually, my father was very successful, and the company permitted (or encouraged) him to start his own agency in Plainfield, New Jersey. Agencies were known by the name of the general agent in charge, so my father’s agency was the Max Rosenbach Agency.

Alas, the New England had a mandatory, retirement policy, so my father had to surrender his agency when he turned 65. He worked hard, built this very successful business, and now had to relinquish it. But family dynasties in the insurance business were common, and surely one of Max’ three sons (sad to say, but daughters were not considered in those days) would want to inherit this multi-million dollar company, yes?

No. Phil and I became lawyers, and David became a radiologist.  The Max Rosenbach Agency became the XYZ Agency and eventually died when XYZ and successor XYZs could not match my father’s drive or business acumen.

Anybody who builds an institution wants to see it perpetuated. If somebody builds a business, he wants to ensure its continuity, because he thinks that that business has something to offer to people. So imagine if somebody were to build not a business, but a whole people? What if somebody were to build a whole way of life, a whole new way of looking at the world and a whole new way of looking at God, and saw that way of life as bettering not merely that somebody’s family, but rather the entire world? To rephrase the old saw, anything worth doing is worth doing forever, and that brings us to Moses.

Like my father, Moses was concerned that his enterprise would not survive him. He knew that Joshua would do fine, but what about Joshua’s successor? And what about his successor? And what about the people? They haven’t shown so far a likelihood of success in the absence of Moses’ charismatic leadership. Indeed, they haven’t shown a likelihood of success in the presence of Moses’ charismatic leadership.

Moses knows that the task before the people is daunting.Once the people are in their promised land, they will be dispersed to their tribal allocations, and the strength of their convictions will necessarily be diluted, because they will no longer be traveling as a people, but as tribes. The Israelites won’t have a central leader to look to for inspiration and guidance. The Canaanites will tug at the Israelites, and urge them to abandon their ways and God.And even if the Canaanites don’t actually urge anything, let’s face it: their way of life is simply easier.

And so, as the Torah ends, Moses speaks. But if Moses addresses only the people in front of him, his lessons will go unheeded very quickly, and therefore he must reach not only them, but their children and their children’s children’s children.

PAY ATTENTION, the Torah tells us, because THESE ARE THE WORDS that Moses speaks. Speaks? Didn’t this happen a long time ago?

Why does the Torah tell us that he addressed his words not to benei Yisrael but rather to kol Yisrael, “all Israel” (Deuteronomy 1:1)? Because the Torah is telling us that the target audience is not merely the people standing before Moses, but rather all Israel, forever. The Book that begins, “THESE ARE THE WORDS [PAY ATTENTION],” (Deuteronomy 1:1) shows us that Moses indeed chose his words carefully, and included all of us, and not merely his immediate listeners, in speeches that we continue to hear and must continue to heed to this day.


Simon Rosenbach, a rabbinical student at AJR, serves the last synagogue in Newark, NJ, and continues to work at the job he loves: Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor.