Is there an argument you were dead set on winning? One where you just had to prove that you were right? If so you’re in good company, for that is exactly how I perceive Moses to be in this week’s portion.
The Book of Deuteronomy was referenced by the rabbis as mishneh Torah, the repetition of the Torah. Much of Deuteronomy is Moses repeating or reiterating events that have previously occurred. However, Moses appears to add his own revisionist history to the events. For example, in Chapter 1 verse 22, he states “all of you came to me and said ‘let us send men to reconnonter the land for us…” whereas in Parshat Shelah Lecha, it was God who told Moses “send our men to reconnoiter the land.” Furthermore, Moses asserts that his reply to the spies who gave bad reports was “have no dread or fear of them,” whereas in Parshat Shelah Lecha it was Caleb who said this. There are other examples as well, but I think the point is clear-why is Moses changing the story?
The best example I can think of as to why our mind engages in revisionist history, or a changing of the story, is from the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir, produced 26 years after the First Lebanon War. The director Ari Folman, also a character in the movie, was talking to a friend at a bar who was sharing his memories from the war when Ari realized that he had no recollection-he had blotted it out. He interviewed a lot of his friends and found that their memories of the war were also shady. He then has a conversation with a psychologist, who says, “We don’t go to places we don’t want to;” “Memory takes us where we want to go.”
I don’t see Moses as lying or deliberately misrepresenting or revising history; rather I see him as having a skewed portrait of the incident of the spies 38 years afterwards because he wants to come out on the “right side of history.” He recognizes that because of the spies’ negative report, an entire generation of Israelites had to die off and be replaced. Subconsciously Moses wants to see himself in the light of defying the spies, being reluctant to send them out and then opposing their message when it is delivered. Can we really blame him? He’s in his final years, he knows he will be unable to enter the Promised Land, so the least we can do is put him as a defender of his people and of the Almighty God. The bottom line is that Moses is remembered not for what he said in his last years but for what he did in leading our ancestors out of Egypt to the Promised Land and giving them the Torah. Whether or not Moses’ words in this portion are correct is insignificant compared to who he was and what he did.
What does any of this have to do with us? I believe everything. It is easy for us to engage in revisionist history or change our story, and while I’m not a psychologist, I believe that most of the time it is subconsciously. By nature we want to have our views accepted and embraced and to know that we always did or said the right thing. The bottom line, however, is that it does not matter. What matters is that we look in the mirror each morning and we smile, knowing that we are doing the best we can and acting in a righteous, ethical manner.
The rabbi who officiated at Karina and my wedding pulled us aside after the ceremony. He said “I don’t want to hear 6 months down the road, ‘He said, she said…’” The point he was making was that it does not matter who said what or even who did what-what does matter is that we work together day after day to strengthen our relationship. When you fight or feel stress, what is imperative is to come back together as a unified couple, to use the cliché but true “kiss and make up.” We all know of feuds where people don’t even remember what they are arguing about, and this is antithetical to what we try to achieve in marriage. My prayer for you as we approach your wedding is to always keep in mind the big picture-your love for one another and your desire to build a household and family together, and that this will be stronger than anything else. May you never enter into the realm of “he said, she said” for that is far less significant than what you share together and why you came before us this morning. Like Moses, who you are and what you believe is the essence of what you will become through your marriage. Mazal Tov on your upcoming simcha!