Moses is addressing the Israelites just days before their release.
They have been exiles for 210 years.
After an initial period of affluence and ease, they have been
• enslaved, and
• their male children killed in an act of slow genocide.
Now, after signs and wonders and a series of plagues that have brought the greatest empire of the ancient world to its knees,
they are about to go free.
Yet Moses does not talk about
• freedom, or
• the land flowing with milk
and honey, or
• the journey they will have to undertake through the desert.
Instead, three times, he turns to the distant future, when the journey is complete and the people, free at last,
are in their own land.
And what he talks about is not
• the land itself, or
• the society they will have to build or
• even the demands and responsibilities of freedom.
( That, of course, is a primary theme of the book of Deuteronomy. )
Instead, he talks about
the duty of parents to their children.
He speaks about the questions children may ask,
He tells the Israelites to do what Jews
have done from then to now.
• Tell your children the story.
• Do it in the maximally effective way.
• Re-enact the drama of exile and exodus, slavery and freedom.
• Get your children to ask questions.
• Make sure that you tell the story as your own, not as some dry account of history. ( not His Story, but My Story, Our Story )
• Say that the way you live and the ceremonies you observe are
“because of what G-d did for me”
not my ancestors but me.
• Make it personal, and make it live.
He says this not once but 3 times:
“It shall be that when you come to the land which G-d will give you as He said, and you observe this ceremony, and your children say to you,
‘What does this service mean to you?’
you shall say,
‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and spared our homes.’” ( Ex. 12:25-27 ).
“On that day you shall tell your child, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt’” (Ex. 13:8).
“In the future, when your child asks you, ‘What is this?’ you shall tell him, ‘With a mighty hand, the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the land of slavery.’” (Ex. 13:14).
Why was this the most important thing he could do in this intense moment of redemption?
• Freedom is the work of a nation,
• Nations need identity,
• Identity needs memory, and
• memory is encoded in the stories we tell.
- Without Story ,
there is no memory, and
- Without memory,
we have no identity.
The most powerful link between the generations is
• the record of those who came before us
• a story that becomes ours, and
• that we hand on as an heritage to those who will come after us.
We are the story
• we tell ourselves
• about ourselves, and
identity begins in the story parents tell their children.
That Story provides us the answer to the three fundamental questions every individual must ask at some stage in their lives:
• Who am I?
• Why am I here?
• How then shall I live? T
There are many answers to these questions, but the Jewish ones are:
I am a member of the people whom G-d rescued from slavery to freedom.
I am here to build a society that honours the freedom of others, not just my own. And,
I must live in conscious knowledge that freedom is the gift of G-d, honoured by keeping His covenant of law and love.
What the secular West now worships is not the universal but the individual: the self, the “Me,” the “I.”
Today’s hyper-individualism will not last.
We cannot live without
• communities and
• collective responsibility.
Which means we cannot live without the stories that connect us to
a past, a future and a larger group whose history and destiny we share.
The biblical insight still stands.
The greatest gift we can give our children is a story – a real story, not a fantasy, one that connects them to us and to a rich heritage of high ideals.
With the hindsight of thirty-three centuries we can see how right Moses was.
A story told across the generations is the gift of an identity, and when you know who you are and why,
you can navigate the wilderness of time with courage and confidence.