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O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the
Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with
all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today
in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them
when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and
when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem
on your forehead.
Stationed on the border of the promised
Land, Moses delivers these instructions in his farewell address
to the Israelites. In one sense, his speech, which constitutes the
Book of Deuteronomy, is redundant. Moses reiterates many of the
religious laws and commandments already stated by God in the Book
of Leviticus and the latter half of Exodus. However, Moses is speaking
to a new, younger generation of Israelites who, after wandering
the desert for forty years, are now ready to take the land sworn
to them by God, a land they have never seen. Just as the history
of Israel is at a turning point, so Moses describes the laws and
the covenant in terms very different than before. Previously, the
symbols of God’s covenant have been external: the rite of circumcision,
the Ark of the Covenant, and various rules for physical cleanliness.
Now, Moses describes the laws as internal to the Israelites. The
religious laws are words and ideas that should be so precious to
the Israelites that they are in their “heart[s],” remaining with
the people wherever they go. This passage suggests why Judaism refers
to the biblical laws as “Torah”: laws that are not just rules for
behavior but models for all of life.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bible: The Old Testament!