Thursday, July 27, 2017

Devarim: What My Stories Say About Me

Everybody has his or her own truth. The notion of an objective reality is a little bit of a myth. Certainly our current political climate makes that unmistakably clear; even the idea of "facts" seems to be entirely in dispute!!
We look at the world around us, we process our experiences, we form ideas of what's going on - and the conclusions we come to may be VASTLY different from the person next to us, experiencing the very same things. In fact, we see an incredible example of this in the Torah, as we now begin the fifth and final book. It may be surprising to see how stories can get so fundamentally reinterpreted, or how seemingly objective facts are changed. But maybe the reason the Torah puts it out on display is for all of us to learn something crucially important: Lean in.

The last book of the Torah is called Deuteronomy, or Devarim in Hebrew. It primarily consists of one person's recapitulation of the Exodus story. This is Moses' chance
to give his version of what happened, when, and why. One of the things I find so fascinating about this, is that we have the original version of these events IN THE SAME BOOK! We can just flip back a few pages or chapters to verify what he says, so it would seem pointless to try and change facts. Nevertheless, Moses remembers things a little differently than what we see in Exodus or Numbers. In Deuteronomy, 1:9, Moses suggests that he alone decided he couldn't decide EVERY dispute among the Israelites, even though Exodus 18:17 informed us that Moses' father-in-law, Yitro, was the one who urged him to delegate responsibilities. Later on, he gives himself credit for ideas that God came up with, and also distances himself from embarrassing incidents that earlier texts DEFINITELY indicated were Moses' fault! It's really quite astounding...

So what do we make of it all? For one thing, even Moses has his own "truth." Life isn't experienced in objectivity. We spend so much of our time looking for what's "real" and "definite," because it's hard to accept that everything is subjective, nuanced, biased. Especially when it comes
to moral and/or social issues that we feel - with every fiber of our being - should be agreed upon by ALL PEOPLE, it's challenging to admit that not everyone agrees. So maybe universal acceptance shouldn't be our goal. If that's impossible to achieve, why wear ourselves out fighting to get there? We cannot make everyone see things our way. We can, however, make ourselves known. We can try to help others see us more fully. Moses isn't intending to say "this is how it happened." He's saying "this is how I experienced it." This is HIS reality, and it helps us understand HIM better, not the play-by-play of the events he's describing. And sometimes that's actually a more important insight.

Society teaches us to disregard bias, because it isn't real. Or not real enough. But in actuality, EVERYTHING is biased, we just need to account for it. Moses' story
isn't "fake," it just isn't the only version. And when we know that, we can use the two (or more) different narratives to paint a richer picture, and we can understand the author of each a little better. Their bias is part of the story as well. And so is ours. What you believe about the world, and about healthcare, immigration, the military, foreign affairs, the environment, Israel, religion, and every other issue, it says a lot about YOU, even more than about the issues themselves. So as we keep reading the Book of Deuteronomy, we should see it as an opportunity to understand Moses better. And we should learn from this part of the Torah to see the world that way too. Listen to the news and what the people around you are saying, and see it as a way to understand THEM better. And the way you interpret all this information, the conclusions you draw from it, it says a lot about you yourself as well. If you're willing to listen and learn.

Photos in this blog post:
1. CC image courtesy of Maria Qumayoo oWikimedia Commons
2. CC image courtesy of Nevit on Wikimedia Commons
3. CC image courtesy of Darheim on Wikimedia Commons
4. CC image courtesy of K.C. Tang on Wikimedia Commons

No comments:

Post a Comment