Starting at the End / Dvar Torah, Parshat Devarim

Haim Watzman

This is an English version of the dvar Torah that appears in issue 1208 of “Shabbat Shalom,” the weekly portion sheet published by the religious peace movement Oz Veshalom. It is dedicated to the memory of my father and teacher Sanford “Whitey” Watzman, who left us seven years ago on 2 Av.

Many years ago, when I worked as a journalist, I attended a press conference at a conservative research institute in Jerusalem. I don’t recall exactly what the subject was, but I do remember that the institute’s director, who had served in an elite unit in the US Army, claimed that he could prove scientifically that the State of Israel had been in the right in a recent military action that had been loudly criticized by the rest of the world. After I and several other reporters settled ourselves in the small meeting room, he rose to speak. “I’ll start with the creation of the world,” he began. Realizing that the press conference would be very long and grueling. I mumbled an excuse of some sort, got up, and left.

The choice of the right starting point is part of the art of storytelling. Tracing the sequence of causes that led to any given event will always lead to the creation of the world, given that, at least according to the modern scientific view, every event is the consequence of a previous event, going back to the dawn of time. But it’s not only that beginning every story at the creation is tiring. It’s simply wrong, both literarily and in principle. Because the place where the story begins needs to foreshadow the end that the storyteller wants to arrive at.

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