God told Moses to ascend Mount N’vo to die ‘in the middle of the day’. The Rabbis explain that the Jewish People had told themselves they were not letting Moses leave them without a fight. He had taken them out of Egypt, split the sea, given them the Torah and provided mannah for 40 years. Who wants a leader like that to move on? God responded by taking Moses ‘in the middle of the day’ to show the Jewish People that no one could stop Him from taking Moses back.
It always amazes me. Never have the Jewish People complained about a leader in his lifetime more than they did about Moses. They didn’t listen to him; they slandered him; they abused him; they even tried to kill him. And yet, when he was leaving them, they were desperate for him to stay?!
Human beings, and most especially we Jews, love to hang on to the past. The past always looks so much rosier than the now for a simple reason. When we look at what is in front of us right now, whilst we might see the goodness that it is offering, we are also well aware of the challenges and hardships involved. If we are not careful, that feeling of hardship can easily cast a very long and dark shadow over the pleasures that are here for us at any given moment.
I sometimes look back on my teenage years with very fond memories. Until I remind myself what a miserable time they really were for me! But that’s the nature of nostalgia. We forget how things really were and only see the past through rose coloured lenses.
The problem with all of this is that we are often challenged to enjoy the ‘now’ because the past seems like it was so much better. Egypt was such a miserable experience for the Jewish People. But when Moses was the present, leading them into a desert, suddenly the ‘past’ of Egypt seemed oh so appealing. Then, when Moses was about to become the past, all of a sudden the Jewish People didn’t want to let him go.
The truth is that the Jewish People did fine without Moses. New and different leaders came along who led each generation just as well as Moses led his. The Jewish People grew; they developed; and they thrived – all without Moses to lead them. Keeping Moses alive was not the solution for them. The solution was to realise the incredible possibilities that remained for them even when he was not there.
Concern to hold on to what is in the past clouds our perception of the new possibilities that exist now that the past is gone. And it is the nature of our world that there are always new possibilities coming to fruition.
Life is what we make of the moments we are given. And every moment is of identical potential. The past and future are no better than today. In the grandest of all equalities, all moments are created completely equal in their potential for us to realise the rich and varied possibilities that God constantly places before us. God is not in the past, nor is He in the future – He is outside of time. He exists only in the eternal ‘now’ that every moment provides. God is right here, right now – it’s not worth living anywhere else.
Shabbat Shalom and well over the fast,
Parsha in a Nutshell
The Torah portion is a song; a beautiful poem taught to the Jewish people by Moses.
It recounts the trials and tribulations of 40 years in the desert. Jewish consciousness, until the present generation, was to teach every Jewish child to memorize Ha’azinu. In this manner, we internalised the lessons of our history. Santayana said, ‘He who does not learn the lessons of history is doomed to repeat them.’ We Jews seem to have proven him right over and over again.
The portion ends with Moses being told to ascend Mount N’vo to see the Promised Land before he dies and is ‘gathered to his people’. This turn of phrase, the Rabbis explain, is an allusion to the afterlife.
It’s all set up and ready for the tragic and yet uplifting climax. Make sure you tune in to a local Shul on Simchas Torah for the epic denouement. Dickens is my second favourite author. God is the best.