And I pleaded… This is the translation of the first word of this week’s parsha, Va’Etchanan. Moses is speaking to the Israelites, recalling the heart-wrenching scene where God tells Moses that he will not be able to go the Promised Land himself, though he has been leading the people there this whole time. He is frustrated, and yet he continues.
To me, this is a test of Moses’s leadership more difficult than others. How, when he knows that his fate is already sealed and he will not continue with the people, will he continue his work while he still has the chance?
In this parsha he also pleads with the people to continue to follow God. And in the midst of his instruction he states the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5):
Listen Israel, God - Our God – is One. And you shall love God with all your heart, and soul, and might.
These words have such impact that they have become foundational to the way Jews pray and understand our relationship to the Divine. Moses uses these words to address continuity of relationship by reminding the people of God’s Oneness, and command us not only to obey, but to listen and love. Or perhaps, listen with love, and act with love, even when we aren’t sure things will stay the same. These tools are the ones that live on, and the values that connect us to our greater community, and to God, year after year. Rabbi Lisa Stella is the senior Jewish educator for University of Michigan Hillel.