My wife and I are in a mixed marriage, not mixed by religion but by nationality. She grew up in America and I grew up in Britain. And if we want to further complicate matters she is the child of a Canadian and an American, while I am the child of a Brit and an Israeli. Where we come from plays an important part in who we are. My British experiences, and by extension the experience of having a British father and an Israeli mother, define the type of person I am. My personal history informs certain decisions that I make, certain attitudes that I have, and certain ways that I behave.
All of us are formed by our personal histories and it’s important to know where we came from to think about how and why we do things.
In this week's Torah portion, as we begin our final book of the Torah, Devarim (Deuteronomy), Moses addresses all of the Israelites on the other side of the Jordan and he begins by reminding the people where we came from. When we were at Horeb God said: ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Start out and make your way to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, the hill country, the Shephelah, the Negeb, the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and the Lebanon, as far as the Great River, the river Euphrates’ (Deut. 1:6-7). And then Moses begins to tell our story.
In many ways the entire book of Devarim is Moses’ recollection of all that has happened to the Israelites over these past forty years since we left Egypt right up and until this moment as we stood on the other side of the Jordan. These people experienced parts of it, the lived it, and yet Moses thought it was important to remind them of where they had come from in advance of them reaching their final destination, the Promised Land.
Before they could reach the Promised Land they had to, once more, think about all of those experiences that had formed them; to go over their history and internalize it. These experiences would inform the choices and the decisions that they would make in the Land of Israel.
For us, like the Israelites in the wilderness, it is always important to know where we came from, to know our family story, and to know the history of our parents and our grandparents. All of those experiences made us into the people we are today. All of those experiences, for better or for worse, inform who we are.
Moses knew that for the Israelites, as a whole, they needed to think about where they had come from to know where they were going. And it's the same for all of us. We don't have a Moses to tell us our story and so we have to discover it for ourselves, but when we do perhaps then we get to be that one step closer to reaching the Promised Land.