Ve’zot ha’b’racha 5777 - 2016
Post date: Oct 20, 2016 8:16:00 PM
This week is it – the last parsha in the entire Torah. The death of Moses, and the beginning of a new era in the lives of the people Israel. All of the foreshadowing, promising, hinting, and warning has led up to now. It is incredibly fitting that we end the reading of the Torah right as we are beginning the new year. We have the opportunity, each year, to see the journey of our lives reflected in another year’s reading of v’zot ha’b’racha – the parsha this week.
I have always loved teaching young children about the upcoming holiday of Simchat Torah, where we begin the Torah again. There is something awe-inspiring for them about ending, and beginning again immediately afterward. Once, I tried a lesson plan I heard from an experienced mentor teacher, and I read a storybook to the class. As soon as I read the last word of the book, I flipped back to the front cover and started reading it again. There were shouts and giggles from the children, and a perfect lead-in to talking about how we read the Torah again and again each year.
The end of the Torah gives us little mystery in terms of plot – we know Moses is going to die long before we reach this parsha. Interesting, though, is the description of Moses at his death that the Torah gives. It states, ‘and Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.” I’m not sure exactly what “natural forces” they are talking about, though I can certainly take a guess. What I think is particularly curious here is that Moses is being described as not aging.
Recently, I’ve begun to supervise a master’s degree level student who is training to be a school psychologist. She is certainly not young, at least by the standards to which I am accustomed. She is in her mid-twenties, smart, and independent. Yet, leaving work today, I could not help but feel older. Older than what, I am not sure – perhaps older than she, or perhaps simply older than when I had that same energy, enthusiasm, and perspective.
So, why is it that Moses, who lived to be almost a century older than I am now, is described as not aging? Is there a benefit to remaining young? Or, is the Torah simply referring to his body’s maintaining it’s functioning, while not commenting on his intellectual or emotional maturity?
I think the answer lies in chapter 34, passuk 10 of Devarim – near the end of this week’s parsha. After Moses dies, the passuk reads, “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.” This phrase – face to face – in Hebrew is panim el panim. One of the most intimate ways of knowing a person – looking them face to face.
People have not come about like Moses since he has died. Whatever it was that made Moses the man we know through the Torah, this set of characteristics has not repeated itself. We tend to look at this as a negative thing – no prophet as great as Moses has come to the people of Israel since his death. I wonder, though, if there is also another message here. Moses did not age, and, perhaps by this we can understand that he did not become more wise or mature. Right before his death, God again reminds Moses that he can see the land of Israel, but cannot go there. This seems like a cruel taunt by God. Perhaps it is not. Perhaps the message hidden in God’s final words to Moses is that Moses was simply unable to let go of his dream, to enter the land of Israel. Perhaps his prolonged state of youth is not miraculous, but rather perpetual adolescence.
Letting go of the old is the only way we can realistically make room for the new. In this parsha, the nation of Israel and her leaders can not move into the future until the leader who faithfully brought them to this threshold let's go.
Each year, we have the opportunity to finish reading the Torah around the same time, the same season. We can take that time and reflect on where we were one year ago today, two years ago today, and so on. Last year, at this time, I felt not dissimilar from my young supervisee. This year, I feel much older. I do not envy the idea of running slower and slower mile times as I age, but I do value the maturity that I gain each year. I try to appreciate the experiences that bring me to each autumn, hopefully a little older and wiser than the year before.
שבת שלום, חג סמח