Just tell me what you want from me! - on Parshat Dvarim

Everything that happens to us can can have a different interpretation. But how do we know which is right & how does this relate to COVID-19?

Rabbi Shomo Sobol ,

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
צילום: גיא טייב

Reality is not determined by situations," said Adolf Adler, an Austrian Jewish physician and founder of Individual Psychology, "…But we determine for ourselves the reality that we give to situations.”

This Shabbat we begin the Book of Deuteronomy. The final book of the Torah encompasses a lengthy farewell speech by Moshe Rabbeinu to the People of Israel, that began on Rosh Chodesh Shevat in the fortieth year after the Children of Israel left Egypt, and came to a close on the 7th of the month of Adar of that year, the day of Moses's passing.

The name of the book according to our sages is "Mishneh Torah" (a repetition of the Torah) because in it, Moses recaps many of the events that took place over the forty-year sojourning of the Children Israel in the desert prior to their arrival in the Promised Land. The question arises: Why was it necessary to repeat things we were already told? Moreover, Moshe is providing a review for the same generation that experienced those same events! What's the necessity in doing so?

It seems to me that the answer lies in Adler's quote featured above. Everything that happens to us can be construed in numerous ways. Moshe Rabbeinu, who was at the highest possible level of intimacy with G-d attainable for a human being, is offering the People of Israel the proper perspective of events that took place. The book of Deuteronomy should therefore be seen as a set of comparisons of events as described in previous books of the Pentateuch with Moshe's personal take, based on the understanding that Moshe is offering us a deep and divine perspective.

If that's the case, how do can we correctly interpret anything that happens in our lives? After all, each and every one of us in our personal lives - and all of us together as a society and a nation as a whole – experiences events that can be interpreted in a multitude of ways.

When prophecy existed, we would ask the prophet to tell us what G-d wanted of us. But with prophecy no longer available, we must try to understand things by ourselves or consult those we trust. However, this can be a problem, as we can never really be sure that we have “hit the bullseye” on the correct interpretation. I do believe that as long as we understand that everything we experience is orchestrated by G-d in order for us to develop new strengths within ourselves and make us better people, we are looking at it from the correct perspective.

Our role in this world is not to be “event analysts” but to be better people, come closer to G-d and bring blessings to the world. Therefore, if we use our life experiences to that effect, we are “hitting the bullseye” for the specific goals for which we were created.

It is possible to implement this outlook on the current COVID-19 crisis, which is likely to continue into the foreseeable future. If we had Ruach HaKodesh we would be aware of why this was happening to us and our communities, and even today – with an absence of prophetic wisdom - there are those trying to guess the cause for the pandemic. Maybe they are right and maybe not. Only G-d knows the true reason. But what is certain, is that if this period propels us into developing ourselves personally and spiritually as individuals and as a nation, we have fulfilled the will of G-d, and made the world a better place- a place that does not deserve pandemics.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol serves as Dean and Founder at the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics and Community Development, and as rabbi of Kehillat Shaarei Yonah Menachem in Modi’in.