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Live the Question!

Rainer Marie Rilke, the early twentieth century mystical poet, writes:
Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day. (Letters to a Young Poet)
When Moses pleaded before God that he be allowed to step foot in the land of Israel, I imagine questions to plague his soul despite his many years of experience. “Why cannot I cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan?” Questions defined him throughout his years. When God first called to Moses, he wondered aloud about his worthiness and protested God’s choice to send him to Pharoah.

And yet God’s demands guided him. For forty years he led the people through the wilderness. He lost his temper on several occasions. God became impatient and angry with the Israelites as well. And on one occasion, God said to Moses that is enough. “Now you cannot lead the people into the Promised Land.”

“Why now? Why this moment?” Moses must have thought. The Torah relates: “I pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying, ‘O Lord God, You who let Your servant see the first works of Your greatness…. Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan…’ The Lord said, to me, ‘Enough! Never speak to Me of that matter again!’” (Deuteronomy 4) The commentators are also perplexed. Why would Moses plead on his own behalf? Why would he share with the people his frustration that his plea was denied.

The medieval commentator, Ibn Ezra, suggests it is to teach the importance of living in the land of Israel. This land is more important than any other. The rabbis believe it is to convey the lesson that no one should ever lose hope. Our most fervent prayers may yet be answered. The modern commentator, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, offers that Moses still does not acknowledge his sin. He is not praying for forgiveness but instead asking that this unjust decree be annulled.

All suggestions appear inadequate. The questions remain.

They haunt Moses.

Then again, perhaps they animate him. The answer always stands at a distance.

“Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.” (Deuteronomy 34)

Live the question!

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