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The main part of the Parasha is Moses' poetic-style prophetic warnings and counsel: for the Israelites to heed and impress on future generations (32:46). This verses' style is characterized by shifts in the tenses, sometimes unexpectedly so.
Early on, Moses writes in the present tense. He urges his people to be always learning from the past: 'Remember the days of old', and with creative understanding of the current situation: 'consider the years of many generations' (32:7). Yet he then proceeds to go into the future tense to describe events which (following Rashi) happened forty years previously: the Exodus, and the miracles leading to G-d taking the Israelites as His People.
He (G-d) will find them (the Israelites) in a desert land, in howling wilderness… as an eagle who stirs up its nest, flutters over its young, spreads out its wings, takes them, bears them... (32:11).
And soon afterwards, Moses chooses the past tense in warning of the G-d's future wrath for offences not yet done (though they were to repeat themselves by the time of Jeremiah)
You forgot G-d, who formed you… G-d had seen how His sons and His daughters angered Him, and He loathed… He said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their fate shall be (32:18-20)
However, it may be said that Moses deliberately changed the tenses to teach some eternal lessons. As the Psalmist writes: For His anger lasts only a moment; but His favor is always living (Psalms 30:6).
Thus Moses' writing of G-d's anger is indeed in the past tense. For one day in the future - at the time of the Redemption - it will be a thing of the past. As Moses himself put it: 'You shall return and obey G-d… carrying out all His commandments. He will make you abundantly prosperous… for the G-d will again rejoice over you for good, as he rejoiced over your fathers' (30:8-9).
And Moses also hinted that His deepest connection with his people would come in the future full redemption. Indeed, that will be the time when: 'He (G-d) will find them (the Israelites) in a desert land, in howling wilderness… as an eagle who stirs up its nest, flutters over its young, spreads out its wings, takes them, bears them...' (32:11). That 'desert land' would be the various exiles and sufferings therein. As Jeremiah writes:
G-d says that in the future, people will no more say 'As the Lord lives, who brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt', but, 'As the Lord lives, who brought the people of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands where he had driven them; and I will bring them back to their land that I gave to their fathers' (Jeremiah 16:14-15).
In other words, the miracles of the Exodus will pale before the magnitude of those of the future redemption (c.f. Berachot 12b).
In other words, Moses' change of tenses was a plea that his words would be heeded by all generations that would succeed him. Each day would be viewed anew - as a new experience (c.f. Rashi to 6:6), and ultimately G-d's wrath and associated suffering will be a thing of the past, and His relationship will ever deepen - way into the future.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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