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Moses Says Goodbye: Three Parting Messages #747

10/07/2022 05:37:46 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Ha'Azinu: “May my discourse come down as the rain, my speech distill like the dew.” (Deuteronomy 32:2)

Moses Says Goodbye: Three Parting Messages


This week in synagogue, we will read the second to last parashah in the Torah.

Spoiler alert: Next week, Moses will die.

Moses has just turned 120, which is where the expression, “May you live to 120.” comes from. Indeed, if Moses - God’s favorite - lived so long, may God grant us similar years – in good health.

Moses is the most enduring human character in the Torah. We follow him across four books - from birth, to bulrushes to burial.

He rises and falls from humble beginnings to the adopted son of Egypt’s royal family, to a fugitive, a shepherd, a hesitant leader and, finally, the receiver and teacher of God’s law.

He begins life with a speech impediment, concludes it as a respected orator, and this week, as a poet laureate.

With his final breath, Moses delivers his closing address which we read this week each year in the aftermath of the High Holidays.

And from the start - similar to the way we may feel days after Yom Kippur - he acknowledges, and teaches, that in spite of the many positive influences, teachings and affirmations surrounding us, from time to time – we may fail.

His final words, delivered in a poem, are laid out in the form of two “towers,” leaving us with three enduring messages:

First, “Whatever you have learned in your lifetime – whatever commitments you have made in the past – you will fail and falter throughout your life.” 

A few days ago, during Yom Kippur, if you promised that you will be more patient, then look no further than Moses.

Yes, Moses often exuded patience, as over 40 years he repeatedly weathered complaints from those he led.

Yet, he was by no means perfect. Some would say he had an anger-management issue.

Moses killed an Egyptian overseer. He smashed the original 10 Commandments. And he struck twice a life-giving rock - going against God’s instructions.

Yet every time he failed, was disappointed or was knocked down, he came back stronger.

Moses stands behind his central message – that life will involve a series of successes and failures. He opens with these words: “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter! (Deuteronomy 32:1)

Sages have noted, that heaven represents where each of us came from - from a source which in many ways remains unknown to us. And earth refers to our fellow human beings. In many ways, life is a balance between the two.

The great sage, Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar (1696 -1743), taught that: “Moses’ words originated at the source of his soul, in heaven, yet could be heard on earth as they issued from his mouth.”

Moses calls upon heaven – the creator, and earth – his fellow Israelites - to take note that we are here to make a difference in this world, and to rise even after we fail.

In short, it is up to each of us to make the most of our time on earth – whether that be 120 years or significantly less.

Indeed, the Israelites are about to begin an entirely new phase — without the only human leader they have ever known. 

So, Moses’ final words remind us of the importance of living a full and meaningful life, never forgetting where we come from and also committing to living well with compassion for those who dwell with us.

But perhaps the most important message of this week’s Torah portion, is contained within its second sentence: “May my discourse come down as the rain, my speech distill like the dew.”

On Rosh Hashanah, we pondered the possibility that we are capable of change. And on Yom Kippur we considered ways to put these resolutions into action.

Yet if you are like most, you already find yourself drawn toward old habits just a few days after the close of the High Holidays.

Hence, the allusion to rain and dew.

For Judaism teaches that true change does not necessarily emerge through an epiphany. Rather, it teaches that ebracing new habits is achieved through small, gradual steps. 

We are just as good as the next thing that we do.

Therefore, this week’s Torah portion, Ha’azinu (Give ear), reminds us to be patient as we implement the changes we considered last week.

He reminds us that life requires us to achieve a balance between our mysterious origins and the knowns of our daily lives.

Yes, Moses - our most storied leader - is about to die. But his legacy endures. For while he reluctantly accepted the leadership of a nation, he evolved into Judaism’s greatest leader.

Over his lifetime, despite his occasional impatience, he developed humility, patience and and self-confidence.

He inspires us today – not because he was supernatural or godly – but rather because he was one of us.

It is a message to each of us through this very human leader: In spite of our occasional failures and setbacks, each of possesses the ability to rise and succeed –– one failure, one success, one drop of rain at a time.

Shabbat Shalom, v'kol tuv.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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