September 13, 2021, Jerusalem, Israel
וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֛ר אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה אֶל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל: [ב] וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֗ם בֶּן־מֵאָה֩ וְעֶשְׂרִ֨ים שָׁנָ֤ה אָנֹכִי֙ הַיּ֔וֹם לֹא־אוּכַ֥ל ע֖וֹד לָצֵ֣את וְלָב֑וֹא וַֽיהוָה֙ אָמַ֣ר אֵלַ֔י לֹ֥א תַעֲבֹ֖ר אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּ֥ן הַזֶּֽה: [ג] יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ ה֣וּא׀ עֹבֵ֣ר
(ספר דברים, לא):לְפָנֶ֗יךָ הֽוּא־יַשְׁמִ֞יד אֶת־הַגּוֹיִ֥ם הָאֵ֛לֶּה מִלְּפָנֶ֖יךָ וִירִשְׁתָּ֑ם יְהוֹשֻׁ֗עַ ה֚וּא עֹבֵ֣ר לְפָנֶ֔יךָ כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָֽה
"Moshe went and spoke the following words to all Israel. And he said to them, 'I am a hundred and twenty years old today, I can no longer be active in public life', (go out and come in) God has told me, 'you shall not cross this Jordan river.' God himself will cross over and lead the nation. He will destroy those nations to make way for you, Yehoshua will lead you, as the Eternal has spoken." (Deuteronomy 31, 1-3)
Moshe/Moses was chosen from birth to lead the nation of Israel. While he was born into an enslaved nation he was taken by the princess of Egypt into her home so he should be raised as a prince, so that he should not have a slave mentality. He was raised to be royalty. His entire life has been devoted to his people, the Nation of Israel. He left the life of luxury to join a slave nation and lead them to freedom. He defended a Hebrew slave who was being beaten by an Egyptian slave driver. He traveled with the Nation of Israel 40 years in a desert, assuming the most difficult, challenging and frustrating leadership position imaginable, to transform a slave nation into God's nation, a nation of freedom and light unto the nations of the world. He spoke with God as no man before or since, he became Moshe Our Teacher, a title given to no other man in our history. Moshe our Leader. And now he is approaching the long awaited goal; the Nation of Israel is about to enter its promised land, the land of Canaan, the Land of Israel, as promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Here we are to fulfil our destiny as a nation, but wait, Moshe will not be entering.
God has decreed that Moshe shall not enter, he shall remain behind, he shall perish in the desert, his final resting place shall not be known. Moshe the Leader, Moshe our Teacher. But why?
The rabbis have pondered and grappled with this question for thousands of years. But I saw an insight by a Jew who was very far from being a rabbi, but I think he offers some insight into this dilemma, but more importantly, an insight for the human condition. For after all, the Bible is a lesson book, the word Torah means instruction, as the word Horeh, Parent, means instructor. Horaáh means instruction, moreh/morah means teacher. The Torah is a book of lessons, a guide for life. So, let's learn:
Why was Moshe left behind, why, after a lifetime of devotion to God and the Jewish nation was Moshe not permitted to fulfil a lifelong dream?
Franz Kafka offers an answer, yes, Franz Kafka for whom the term Kafkaesque is coined, the brilliant tormented young Jew from Prague. Franz Kafka who authored the following classics of modern literature:
Franz Kaka writes in his diaries about Moshe, Our Teacher. "He is on the track of Canaan all of his life; it is incredible that he should see the land only when on the verge of death. The dying vision of it can only be intended to illustrate how incomplete a moment is human life, incomplete because a life like this could last forever and still be nothing but a moment. Moses fails to enter Canaan not because his life is too short but because it is a human life."
Listen Heavens and pay attention Earth! What an insight. We can only rejoice at such an astonishing comment, so short but so powerful and so rich in meaning.
Kafka, who lived a sickly life and died at the young age of 40, has pierced deep into the great mystery. Awaken heavens! Moshe is a man. He is a great man but the Torah says Ha Ish Moshe, the man Moshe, he is a man, (Book of Numbers, 12,3) he is a human being as we all are, as every human being has ever been. As human beings we must understand what we shall die and perish from this earth without having fulfilled all our dreams and desires. But take comfort for this is not a failure, but this is life itself, it is the striving. My father always spoke of the Impossible Dream, of striving for that which we cannot attain. Set your goals so high that you cannot attain them, but the world will be better because you tried.
Some modern historians say Moshe never existed. I believe in our 3,700 year tradition and accept his life as truth. However, either way the lesson is the same. Moshe the great man is still a man. He is described as the most humble of all men and yet he too becomes angry and frustrated, teaching us that this is normal human behavior. We strive for perfection but we fall short, but we still strive. That is what it means to be human. We have our feet on the ground but our souls are climbing Jacobs' ladder with the heavenly messengers. We are on the Ladder of God. We never stop dreaming, we never stop trying.
Arise man for you are capable of greatness, and the effort is the most important part. We are human, our lives, like Moshe, will be incomplete. We may not be able to cross the Jordan; love might remain unfulfilled, goals unattained, fantasies unrealized.
Moshe/ Moses, sees the Land of Canaan just before he dies. But he cannot cross over. Living longer would not change the matter for the lesson is that life, of any length, is incomplete. Kafka, through his pained life, was able to see what others could not see. Life, by its nature, is incomplete. We turn to God for assistance to work through the pain, the challenges, and we find the strength.
I often feel I am walking with Moshe our Teacher, and his soul has traveled through many generations, his footsteps can still be found; walk, slowly, and feel the presence. We live each day, we face each day. And Moshe went and spoke these words to all of Israel, Moshe took the time to go from tribe to tribe, as he neared the end of his life, he was still our teacher.
I spent today at the hospital, I saw cancer patients, I saw people in wheelchairs, I saw and heard the coughing and moaning, the agony and yet the smiles, and the struggle to hold on to life, a human life. I saw people in terrible conditions and yet wish each other a gut jahr, a good year ahead, a mazeldike jahr, a year of good luck (Yiddish). Shana Tova (Hebrew). We are all human, we are all inherently incomplete. And so it is.
And at this time of year in the Jewish calendar I wish everyone to have a good year ahead, filled with blessings, health and happiness. A sweet year, a zuss jahr (Yiddish), Shana Metuka (Hebrew). A year of LIFE.
a different Moshe, in the promised land, on this side of the Jordan river.