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Torah Commentary Blog

Nitzavim (09/08/18) - Vayeilech (09/15/18)
by Bettijane Eisenpreis

Sitting on the bookshelf in my den is a tired-looking old white Bible. The front cover is falling off, but in the lower right-hand corner the name “Elizabeth Jane Long” is still clearly visible.
Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: Be strong and resolute, for it is you who shall go with this people into the land that the lord wore to their fathers to give them.
- Deuteronomy 31:7-8
 
Sitting on the bookshelf in my den is a tired-looking old white Bible. The front cover is falling off, but in the lower right-hand corner the name “Elizabeth Jane Long” is still clearly visible. Elizabeth Jane Long – don’t tell anyone but that was I! When I was two, I was said to have declared that my name was not Elizabeth but Betty Jane. It sounds a little precocious for a two-year old, but I have been called Betty Jane (now Bettijane) ever since.
 
The Bible was published by the Jewish Publication Society and presented to me on the 27th of May 1950 at Temple B’nai B’rith, Wilkes-Barre, PA, on the occasion of my Confirmation. Except for the color of its cover, it is virtually identical to the one that was given to my son Steven here at Emanu-El when he was confirmed.
 
In both Bibles, Deuteronomy 31:71 contains the phrase “Be strong and of good courage,” not “Be strong and resolute.” Lest you think I am nit-picking, I looked up the “resolute” in the dictionary: “Characterized by firmness and determination; unwavering.” “Courage is defined in that same dictionary, (The American Heritage Dictionary, Second Collegiate Edition) as “the state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger with self-possession, confidence and resolution; bravery.”
We see that courage includes resolution as one of its attributes, but resolution is more limited than courage.  And the old translation, the one that Steven and I both grew up with, adds “good” to courage. It is not enough to forge ahead in the face of danger, to be resolute. We know that it is Moses who is speaking to Joshua, Moses, of whom it will be said in a few chapters, “And there has not arisen a prophet in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face”! Speaking to his hand-picked successor, we would hope that Moses cautioned Joshua to be both good and courageous.
 
Words matter. Amos Oz, who reads frequently at the 92nd Street Y, has been known to compare reading Hebrew in translation to “kissing your sweetheart through a veil.” With Torah, it is the best that most of us can do. Even Hebrew scholars disagree on the meaning of the ancient text. Still, looking closely at these words does yield a reward. We are nearing the end of the Torah, but not the end of our studies. Soon we will read the end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Genesis, all in the same day. The Torah goes on, and so does our study of it. All I can wish for the New Year is that we continue to “Be strong and of good courage”!
 


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