This week we begin reading the fifth book of the Torah, the book of Devarim or Deuteronomy. The book opens with Moses reminiscing on the turbulent forty years, he and the Jewish people had the pleasure of spending together in the Sinai desert, just as they are about to enter promised land. The verse states “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel” and the versus continue “On that side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses explained this Law saying The Lord our G-D spoke to us in Horeb saying, You have dwelt long enough at this mountain.”
Before Google maps there were paper maps, and if one looks at a paper map of the Middle East from that era, one can easily discern that “The plains of Moab” are on the “other” (Eastern) side of the Jordan river, why does the Torah find the need to state the obvious. We also need to understand the connection between being told the location of the Jews at the time, and the next verse in which G-D says to the Jews “You have dwelt long enough in this mountain.”
To get a better understanding of the verses we need to first understand why the Jews had to go through the desert in the first place. We know that this journey did not come as a result of significant geographical distances between the two countries, since Egypt and Israel are basically bordering nations, and no it was not due to some kind of navigation system malfunctioning. Our sages teach, that the long journey through the desert was necessary in order to transform the Jewish people, to the point where they were emotionally, mentally and spiritually ready to enter the Promised Land.
Everything down here on the physical earth, is merely a reflection and representation of its source and counterpart in the spiritual realm. A physical desert, is a representation of a spiritual desert. The definition of a desert is as the verse describes it a place “Where man does not dwell.” When speaking of an earthly desert, that man is us, deserts are hot and there’s no water so man doesn’t dwell there. In the spiritual realm “where man does not dwell” refers to G-D, and so a spiritual desert is a space that is devoid of spirituality and G-dliness and hence desolate. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so where there is no G-dliness and spirituality, there is instead wickedness and evil, and so the desert is a space which embodies the forces of evil. The purpose of the forty year journey the Jews had in the desert, was to neutralize and subdue evil which it represents.
Subjugating and transforming evil leaves ones Divine consciousness significantly more powerful and intense than it was before. When the antagonism to G-d-consciousness is quelled ,the light that shines through and overpowers the darkness is absolutely electric. Nonetheless the heightened consciousness achieved by negating evil does not compare to the consciousness intrinsic to the redemptive state itself. The former despite its advantage over the prior state of darkness, is only a preparation for the latter redemptive state “the metaphoric promised land.”
Moses is speaking to the Jews at the very end of their journey in the desert, where they just spent forty years subjugating evil successfully, to the point where they are now ready for the next phase, entering the redemptive state spiritually, and physically, entering the promised land of Israel. This is the context in which Moses is speaking, which is why he chooses to cite their location as “on the other side of the Jordan,” which on the surface seems like an unnecessary piece of information.
Generally when one stands on one side of a river looking across to the other side, one considers the side not being stood on, to be the “other side” and the side being stood on, to be “this” side. Moses is conveying an important message to the Jews when he describes the side they are actually standing on, as being “the other side of the Riiver.” Moses is informing the Jews that the mission of subjugating evil in the desert, along with all the spiritual satisfaction, and newly found Divine consciousness that came as a result, is now complete. The Jews will now be moving into the redemptive state itself, therefore they need to start getting used to the fact that where they are standing now, their current spiritual comfort zone, will actually be considered “the other side of the river,” going forward. At this Moses is priming the Jews to be mentally and spiritually ready for the next phase, entering the land of Israel, and as such, the redemption of today, the subjugation of the desert evil, is the exile of tomorrow, because tomorrow they will be so much farther ahead than they are today and they need to start thinking like tomorrow in advance.
This is also the meaning of the following verse where Moses repeats the story of G-D telling the Jews just after receiving the Torah “You have dwelt to long at this mountain” referring to Mount Sinai. The revelation of G-D on Mount Sinai and the giving of the Torah was a tremendous spiritual experience for all present, so much so, that well after the event was over, the Jews wanted to stick around hoping to continue experiencing the high they had just felt. G-D tells the Jews “you have dwelt too long at this mountain,” meaning you are way to caught up with yesterdays experience, which was meant to simply allow for the progress you will make today, which will create the impetus for you to go even further tomorrow. The mountain is yesterdays news, keep moving. For this is the very essence of the contrast between man and angel whereas the angels relationship with G-D is constant but static, mans relationship with G-D is anything but constant yet should he choose to he can progress from one level of connection to G-D to the next.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so when we did not turn our will and our lives over to the care of G-D, other forces controlled us in his stead, and our bodies and souls were turned into spiritual a desert. In Recovery our mission is to subjugate and vanquish our evil and destructive tendencies, that have taken a hold of us, and once again make our bodies and souls, into a temple where G-D can dwell. This is only the beginning, and a preparation for us to enter the redemptive state where we can continuously improve our conscious contact with God. Let;s pray that each of us should merit to enter our own individual redemptive state our own spiritual promised land and continue to grow in our knowledge and consciousness of the Divine and may we merit to witness the time which our prophets foresaw in the end of days when “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-D like the water covers the sea.”
Rabbi Meir Kessler