Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22

This portion begins Moses’ historical review of the long desert journey.


THE BEGINNING of the Book of Deuteronomy places us at the border of The Land of Promise after a lifetime of journeying. We pause now to look back at the path we have traveled thus far in order to understand its meaning, receive its lessons, and embrace the wisdom and love that we have received through grace and diligent practice. It is indeed a blessing to come to this place of such wide perspective and calm discernment.

The Torah tells us that by linear calculations our journey should have taken but eleven days. How did it take a lifetime — forty years — to arrive here? Our calculations must rely on a different kind of sense.

Our journey through the wilderness has not taken the form of a straight line, but rather a series of breath-taking spirals that drop us again and again at the same point in a cycle, each time at a new level, with an added dimension of awareness. The blessing of D’varim is the expanded awareness that comes from the attainment of a wide perspective — the ability to see our own lives from the vantage point of dispassionate clarity. From here we look back on our defeats and our victories, gleaning the blessings of both.


AS WE SURVEY THE PATH WE HAVE TAKEN and remember our times of humiliating defeat as well as those of jubilant victory, we can look within and see how we have been shaped by these experiences. We carry our defeats and victories in our bodies and psyches. If we do not take opportunities to examine how these experiences have affected us, our defeats and victories will continue to exert their power over us and determine how we respond to each present moment. We will be enslaved to the past. This enslavement will prevent us from entering the Land of Promise that is before us.

The spiritual challenge of D’varim is to attain an expansive perspective on our lives in order to investigate the imprint of each defeat and each victory. It is then possible to learn from those experiences and turn them into wisdom for the journey.

IN RISING TO THIS CHALLENGE, we first remember our moments of disappointment, shame, loss, or hopelessness that we have accumulated on our journey. How do we wear our defeats? Do they weigh us down? Embitter us? Armor us? Shame us? Immobilize us?

Or can we be pruned by them? Learn from them? Be humbled and lifted up? Find compassion for others and ourselves through them? Every defeat can be either a destructive force or a fertilizer for growth and heart-wisdom. The spiritual challenge is to mitigate the destructive force of our defeats through self-compassion and to turn that force instead towards ultimate goodness as we build the strength of our character.

In rising to the challenge of D’varim, we next turn to our moments of accomplishment, celebration, and fulfillment. How do we wear our victories? Do they make us arrogant? Do they separate us? Make us complacent? Dull? Judgmental? Forgetful of others’ suffering? Or can we learn instead to overflow in gratefulness, channeling that overflow into acts of compassion and justice?

THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE OF SUCCESS is to give credit to the God — Source of all blessing and to respond to our abundance through expressions of generosity. The danger posed by victory is that its force may be seized by the false self to build itself up. The result is an expense of vital energy diverted to the ego in further protection of its defenses. Victory can offer both the possibility of expansion into the sweetness of knowing we are worthy; or contraction, in our compulsion to rigidly defend the turf we have conquered.


Our practice for this week of D’varim is first to use the body as a vehicle for entering your places of defeat and victory and then to allow a physical expression to emerge that can lead to the liberation of self-knowledge. Our bodies never lie. They become our teachers when we learn to release past experiences that have been locked up inside flesh.

By listening to our bodies, we learn from our experiences of victory and defeat. We can release ourselves from the burdens of the past and move forward in freedom.

Body Teaching

WATCH YOURSELF THIS WEEK AND NOTICE A GESTURE that is expressive of defeat. It could be a droop of the shoulder curving protectively around the heart, the shuffling of your step, a dull expression on your face that you catch as you pass a mirror. Whatever you find, remember it for your practice.

ALSO WATCH YOURSELF THIS WEEK AND NOTICE A GESTURE OF VICTORY. You might find it in the tilt of your head or in a knowing smile, in the spring of your step, or in the rigidity of your shoulder. Whatever you find, remember it for your practice.

WHEN YOU SIT DOWN TO PRACTICE, BEGIN BY BLESSING the path you have traveled and vowing to use the force of all your defeats and victories towards the attainment of complete freedom, unfettered by the past, so that you might enter the Land of your Inheritance.

LET YOUR BODY EXPRESS THE GESTURE OF DEFEAT and exaggerate it. Breathe into that exaggerated gesture and allow your mind to free-associate images, memories, beliefs, or words that that gesture engenders.


REPEAT THE SAME PROCESS with your gesture of victory.

Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.