Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Moshe's death begins again

I write the post below 4 years ago, as a reaction to Parhas Shmos. It still rings true for me, on many levels.

I cannot stand Parshat Shmot. I fear reading it. It drives me berserk – and especially this year.

Call this hubris, but I overly identify with Moshe Rabbeinu. It’s because of my field of work, it’s because I love his “I can’t stands no more!” declaration to Gd in Bamidbar (Numbers) 11:11-15, it’s because I was born on his birthday (the 7th of Adar)… his struggle just resonates with me.

In particular, I am struck by the way Moshe is stopped at the goal line, blocked from entering Israel after putting himself through 41 years of absolute Gehennom to get there. This man exposed himself to hatred and ridicule, slaved day and night for a nation that often rebelled against his leadership, separated himself from his family, braved the mighty Pharoah and defeated Amalek and fought wars against Emorite kings, you name it – and G-d would not allow him to enter Israel. Sorry, no entry.

Of course, Moshe didn’t complain; after his appeal was rejected, he still did everything he was told to do, up to and including dying. What an outsized tzaddik we’re looking at here.

It all starts in Parshat Shmot, at a time when Moshe would give anything not to have to take this job. He doesn’t want the power, he doesn’t want to lead, he doesn’t want anything other than to be a simple Jew, but Gd won’t take no for an answer.

“They won’t believe me.” No. “Send someone else.” No. “Pharaoh won’t listen.” No. “I don’t speak well.” No. You’re taking this job, Moshe, end of discussion.

And he takes the job. And Gd tells him Aharon will help him out, and Gd gives him a staff to use to engineer miracles, and Gd tells him, “Don’t worry, Moshele, it’ll be all right.”

And so the clock starts on Moshe's death.

“MOSHE, IT’S A FRAUD!” I want to yell at him as I read the parshah. "It’s not true, Moshe, run the other way! You’re going to spend the next forty-one years doing this, only to be prevented from reaching your goal! Turn around while there’s still time!"

But he doesn’t. He picks up the staff and heads to Egypt, expecting that Gd will be there with him every step of the way. Which Gd will be – until the cruel end of the story, when Moshe will be given one last order: Sure, you can go up the mountain and see Israel. Then Die.

This has been the story for so many Jewish leaders; so many well-meaning, committed rabbis and community leaders have given their lives for this stubborn nation, only to perish short of the mark. I know; I’ve buried some of them.

And this year, the story has special resonance for me. As I think about taking a new job, in a new community, where I am told by so many people that I could lead and accomplish great things, I wonder: How far short of my own mark will I die and be buried?

[Note, as I said at the start: I wrote this post 4 years ago, at a time when it became clear I was going to be taking a new position. This is not relevant now!]

But I am comforted by two points:
1. True, Moshe dies short of the mark – but he has a great ride along the way. He speaks to Gd. He rescues the Jews from Egypt. He wins wars. He teaches a nation the way of Gd.

2. And, of course, Moshe must die short of the mark, and this is perhaps his greatest lesson for leaders. Moshe must die short of the mark because the sign of a great leader is that he always has a ‘mark’ in front of him: When he achieves one goal, he sets the next.
Moshe takes the Jews out of Egypt; time to go to Sinai. He reaches Sinai, time to get the Jews on the road to Israel. He gets the Jews on the road, time to teach them the Torah. His life is one long string of Dayyenus, and it never ends because it never can end.
The true Moshe will always die short of the mark, because there will always be another mark, drawing him forward.


  1. Since death isn't final, and since there will also be techias hameisim, which he of all people would qualify for, we haven't seen the last of Moshe Rabbeinu.

  2. “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?” - Robert Browning

    or "HKB"H judges us on our efforts not our results and we don't know the curve" - Kach Mkublani mbeit avi abba

    Joel Rich

  3. Moshe is coming back to bring those left behind in the desert to Israel at The End. He was not stopped at the goal line, the game was just suspended until The End.

  4. Bob, Jewish Moshe-
    Indeed, but that argument didn't satisfy Moshe!

    All true, and yet.