Moshe begins his last address to the Jews reminding them of the terms of the covenant with G-d.
G-d promises that no matter what happens in Jewish History eventually they will be redeemed and everything will be nice.
The Torah is put into the Jews’ hands to perform the commandments and Torah becomes the Jewish constitution.
Moshe tells the Jews they have free will to choose what they do with their lives, and encourages them to make the right decisions.
Moshe abdicates his position of leadership to Yehoshua.
The command is given to meet during Sukkot in Yerushaliyim once every seven years for a public Torah reading.
Moshe tells the Jews that the Torah will be an eternal testimony to the events in Egypt and the Sinai desert.
It’s likely many people in America who listen to Matisyahu don’t necessarily think of him as a “Jewish artist”, though he is clearly both Jewish and an artist. They listen to his music, watch him crowd surf with a broken leg, and probably tune out the messages he has in his songs. The thing is that all of his music has Jewish motifs going all throughout, some of them quite in your face (although less so with his last album).
On his title track from the album “Youth” he actually addresses one of the biggest philosophical points in Judaism:
“Young man take control of your hand
Slam your fist on the table and make your demands
Young man you have the power in your hand
You have the power to choose
You better make the right move”
You really won’t hear lyrics like these in Christian Rock, or at least it should come as a surprise. In Christian theology, Jesus abrogated free will by offering himself as the ultimate sacrifice and the only thing a Christian can choose is to be saved by him. This is not the Jewish take on free will.
Free will is a driving force in our theology, and a predicate to all of the mitzvoth, the commandments. One has to assume that if you tell someone to do or not do something, the person can do it both physically and mentally. There are no commandments to poke out your eye or drill to the center of the Earth. The Torah says it is not over the seas or in the sky but “in your mouth and heart in order to do it.” Moshe puts forth the choice to do right and wrong, and asks us to do right.
Free will and the ability to choose what to do is not simply an adaptive feature, something that is simply hard wired into us the same way that the impulse to eat is. Free will is one of the things that makes us human. The whole study of morality demonstrates that people can make the same choice for any variety of different reasons. The psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg tied it to maturity and development. I personally tie all of people’s choices to the underlying philosophy by which they live their life. It has not been my experience that people make all of their choices simply based on a gut instinct, although everyone does operate that way at some point. What makes us different from animals is our ability to reason out and make sound choices for ourselves, and be able to foresee the consequences of our actions. I just don’t see that kind of forethought in my parent’s cat who tries to make a break for the outside and ends up running head first into the glass door. Is that just me?