In the parsha for this coming week, Moses continues to address the gathered tribes as they prepare to cross the river Jordan into the promised land. He recounts events that happened in the desert, including the manna, the golden calf, and Aaron's death. Moses describes the blessings God will bestow upon the Israelites if they follow God’s law and the punishments they will encounter if they disobey.
One passage in particular stood out to me. In Deuteronomy 11:2, Moses says
וִֽידַעְתֶּם֮ הַיּוֹם֒ כִּ֣י ׀ לֹ֣א אֶת־בְּנֵיכֶ֗ם אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־יָדְעוּ֙ וַאֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹא־רָא֔וּ אֶת־מוּסַ֖ר ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם אֶת־גׇּדְל֕וֹ אֶת־יָדוֹ֙ הַחֲזָקָ֔ה וּזְרֹע֖וֹ הַנְּטוּיָֽה
Take thought this day that it was not your children, who neither experienced nor witnessed the lesson of your God - God’s majesty, mighty hand, and outstretched arm;
This stands in contrast to the line we say annually on Passover from Exodus 13:8:
הִגַּדְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔ בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֖וּא לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּעֲב֣וּר זֶ֗ה עָשָׂ֤ה ה' לִ֔י בְּצֵאתִ֖י מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃
You shall explain to your child on that day, ‘It is because of what God did for me when I went free from Egypt.’
From this text, the Haggadah includes the instruction “In every generation, each of us is obligated to see ourselves as if we have personally gone forth from Egypt.”
Why would those present for the miracles be reminded that their children did not share the experience, but everyone from that day forward must act as though we did take part in the journey?
I believe the intent is to keep the story fresh and vibrant. Those who were present may take for granted their hard won faith. Moses reminds them their faith did slip several times through the journey in spite of being present for the miracles. If they don’t keep in mind that the coming generations are even farther removed from the Exodus and events that followed, they won’t pass on the story effectively. The lessons, traditions, and even obligations that come from that story will then be lost to time.
For the future generations, the burden is just as great. Once the first-hand accounts have all been passed on, they must be perpetually carried and renewed. The surest path to keep the story fresh is to transpose each new generation into the role of the protagonists. Rather than having to rely on an ever lengthening chain of ancestors for continuity, we start again fresh with the very first and strongest link each time.
This takes me back to the two different messages, each part of the same goal. From this, we can learn that communication is not just about what’s said, but also what’s heard. It’s also important to consider the result of communication. Sometimes we have to deliver different messages depending on the audience in order to achieve the same result. As with these instructions, we must be aware of the people with whom we speak and how best to create shared meaning.