Friday, September 21, 2012

Vayelech


This week’s Torah portion is Vayelech. Moses is nearing his death.  He will die before his life long dream and goal are realized.  The people will cross into the Promised Land without him.  They will be led by his successor, Joshua.  Moses is allowed only to peer from a neighboring mountaintop into the land.  Moreover, he will die alone.  Only God will tend to his funeral.  His grave will remain unmarked.  

How can this be?  The greatest of Jewish leaders is mourned and remembered, but his grave is never again visited.  It remains insignificant.  Our tradition does not mandate pilgrimages to this site.  It is as if to say that future generations must not dwell there.  They must press forward.  A monument might hold them back.  The people might dwell at their leader’s grave.  There they might build a mausoleum to their hero.  They must instead look toward the future.  They must remember his teachings but not hold on to his presence.

The Torah is an idea.  It can be held in our arms.  It can be lived in our words and deeds.  It can be carried from place to place.  It is a vision.  It is not dependent on one man (or woman), even one as great as Moses.  That is the dream of Torah.  It might have been given to Moses to hand to the people, but once given, it is dependent on all to fulfill.

Joshua must have raised such questions to Moses.  He must have doubted his abilities.  He must have wondered how he could stand in Moses’ shoes, how he could follow the greatest of leaders.  The Torah reports: Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and resolute, for it is you who shall go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their fathers to give them, and it is you who shall apportion it to them. And the Lord Himself will go before you. He will be with you; He will not fail you or forsake you. Fear not and be not dismayed!” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8)  

And Joshua might have cried:
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (Dylan Thomas)

And yet somehow despite his tears and his cries, Joshua managed to find the courage.  He marched forward.  The people looked not back at their leader’s grave, but marched toward the land.  The people mourned their leader and then turned toward the future.  

Candidates make many promises.  I ask only that they show me the way.   Even the greatest of leaders and visionaries can never see all of their dreams realized.

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