by Rabbi Ann B. Folb, Arlington, VA
, “pay attention,” “give ear”, and so begins the Torah portion which is the last to be assigned for Shabbat morning during our liturgical year. We have come almost full circle in our readings. Chapters 33 and 34 are read on Simchat Torah morning. Moses has been told by God that he is about to die and that, although he will see the Promised Land, he will not enter it. Moses prepares to give his last address to the people. Just as Moses began the wilderness trek with a poem, so in the same manner will he end his journey.
In it we hear the anguished hopes of the leader who, at God’s behest, has led the people to the gates of the Promised Land. It certainly has not been an easy job and we hear Moses’ struggles between the lines. He warns the people of God’s wrath if they stray but also tells Israel’s enemies what will befall them if they try to thwart God’s plans for His chosen ones. And on the very day that Moses finishes his recitation, he climbs Mt. Nebo from which he will soon bless the people. His end is drawing near.
The question for us now is what benefit you and I can take from these closing words of our great leader. Is there some way that we can understand the struggles of the man who, after all, was chosen by God to do the job Moses carried out? Our lives, we believe, are hardly that important.
I guess in forming my conclusion to the question that I have posed; I cannot help but be influenced by the fact that this Shabbat comes so soon on the heels of Yom Kippur. One of the most important aspects of our day-long prayer and reflection is the Yizkor service dedicated to the memories of those we have lost. It is always well attended as it should be. We owe that duty to honor those who came before us. We are their legacy.
All of us struggle with the meaning of our own lives and the finitude of our existence. Our tradition contains a long Midrash beginning in Deuteronomy Rabbah 7:10 and 11:10 that indicates to us that Moses was not spared this quandary either. Commenting on the verse “
And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘Behold, thy days approach that thou must die
.’” (Deut. 31:14), our teachers comment. “When Moses realized that the decree [of death] had been sealed against him, he drew a small circle around himself, stood in it and said, ‘Master of the universe, I will not budge from here until you void the decree.’”
As you can well imagine, God did not take well to this behavior. After various objections Moses submits to his fate. Despite his greatness his time had come. He has left the people a great heritage which he hopes they will not abandon. His poem reminds them of God’s steadfastness toward them which Torah contains.
But what do we leave to our children? What will be our legacy to them? Besides physical things, what do we want to leave to our heirs? None of us are Moses and few of us will have our last words memorialized in a fashion as grand as the bible. But surely, just as Moses, we want our children to carry out the heritage of our people and the good works which we have begun.
Most of us also hope our children will live their lives and raise their children with the values that we cherish.
I guess then that I wish to make a suggestion to you. I would like to suggest that while the self-examination of our atonement day is still fresh in our minds, that we take the time to put on paper those ideas and values that we hope our children will continue after we are gone. We often believe that our children know what it is we treasure and perhaps they do. Certainly, we hope, they should be able to see our values embodied in our behavior.
It may be a risky business to commit ourselves to paper. In this cyber age where information is stored in the clouds and easily erased, people sometimes do put things down on paper especially if it is an important matter. So I recommend that you make the effort to put into words the things you want your children to continue in their lives and those you hope have marked your life as well. It will be a treasure for both you and them. The words may not be read each year in synagogue, but I can almost guarantee you that your children will treasure your writing and review it often. You may not be Moses, but you are you and that is important enough.