Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: V’Zot HaBracha (Deuteronomy 33-34)Seven Life Changing Lessons from the Life and Death of Moses

Today is the final day of Sukkot, which will conclude with Simchat Torah and the reading of the final Parsha of the Torah. In it, Moses died alone on a mountain with G-d, just as he had been alone with G-d years earlier when he caught sight of a bush in flames and heard the call that changed his life and the moral horizons of the world.
There’s no drama related to Moses’ death. There are neither crowds nor weeping. It is a profoundly sad moment; here is the obituary the Torah grants him.
Never again did there arise a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to display in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and all his servants and all his land, and for all the mighty acts and awesome sights that Moses displayed in the sight of all Israel. (Deut. 34:10-12)
Here are seven lessons from the life and death of Moses.
[1] For each of us, even for the greatest, there is a Jordan we will not cross, a promised land we will not enter, a destination we will not reach. That is what Rabbi Tarfon meant when he said: It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.[Pirkei Avos 2:16] What we began, others will continue. What matters is that we undertook the journey. We did not stand still.
[2] “No man knows his burial place” (34:6). What a contrast between Moses and the heroes of other civilizations whose burial places become monuments, shrines, places of pilgrimage. It was precisely to avoid this that the Torah insists explicitly that no one knows where Moses is buried. We believe that the greatest mistake is to worship human beings as if they were G-d. We admire human beings; we do not worship them. That difference is anything but small.
[3] G-d alone is perfect. That is what Moses wanted people never to forget. Even the greatest human is not perfect. Moses sinned. We still do not know what his sin was – there are many opinions. But that is why G-d told him he would not enter the Promised Land. No human is infallible. Perfection belongs to G-d alone. Only when we honor this essential difference between heaven and earth can G-d be G-d and humans be humans.
[4] There is more than one way of living a good life. Even Moses, the greatest of men, could not lead alone. He needed the peacemaking skills of Aaron, the courage of Miriam and the support of the seventy elders. We should never ask: Why am I not as great as X? We each have something, a skill, a passion, a sensitivity, that makes, or could make, us great. The greatest mistake is trying to be someone else instead of being yourself. Do what you are best at, then surround yourself with people who are strong where you are weak.
[5] Never lose the idealism of youth. The Torah says of Moses that at the age of 120, “his eye was undimmed and his natural energy unabated” (Deut. 34:7). Moses’ “eye was undimmed” means he never lost the passion for justice that he had as a young man. He is there, as vigorous at the end of his life’s journey as he was in its beginning. We are as young as our ideals, what we live for. The more cynical you get with age, the more rapidly you age.
[6] At the burning bush, Moses said to G-d: “I am not a man of words. I am heavy of speech and tongue” but that didn’t stop him from becoming the most eloquent of prophets. Some are puzzled by this. They should not be. G-d chose one who was not a man of words, so that when he spoke, people realized that it was not he who was speaking but G-d who was speaking through him. What he spoke were not his words but G-d’s words. That is why He chose a couple who could not have children – Abraham and Sarah – to become parents of the first Jewish child. That is why he chose a people not conspicuous for their piety to become G-d’s witnesses to the world. The highest form of greatness is so to open ourselves to G-d that His blessings flow through us to the world. That is how the priests blessed the people. It was not their blessing. They were the channel of G-d’s blessing. The highest achievement to which we can aspire is to open ourselves to others and to G-d in love that something greater than ourselves flows through us. Let go and let G-d.
[7] Moses defended the people. Even when they had sinned. Even when they were ungrateful. Even when they made a Golden Calf. He risked his life to do so. He said to G-d: “And now, forgive them, and if not, blot me out of the book you have written” (Ex. 32:32). The leaders worthy of admiration are those who defend the people, even those who don’t support them or are at times antagonistic to their ideals. The people worthy of respect are those who give respect. Those who hate will be hated, those who look down on others will be looked down on, and those who condemn will be condemned. The people who become great are those who help others to become great. Moses taught the Jewish people how to become great.The greatest tribute the Torah gives Moses is to call him eved Hashem, the servant of G-d. We too can all serve. We are as great as the causes we serve, and when we serve with true humility, a Force greater than ourselves flows through us, bringing the Divine presence into the world.  Good Shabbos/Chag Samayach (based on Covenant and Conversation, 5775)