D’var Torah: Looking Back with Pride — Not Remorse


The denial of Moses' entry into Israel by God is a reminder that even great leaders leave some intended accomplishments unachieved.

For several years, I led a Torah discussion group at an assisted living facility. Each week, a dozen women and men would gather to discuss the weekly portion. Even though at times they couldn’t remember the details of their daily lives, they relished the opportunity to relate to the themes and universal truths contained within the text.
One day, as we read about Moses being told he would not enter the Promised Land, one woman looked at me with tears in her eyes and said: “It’s so unfair that after everything he did, Moses wasn’t allowed to enter Israel.” She spoke with such intensity that I could only imagine the unfulfilled promises she remembered from her own life.
On Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat during the Ten Days of Repentance (Aseret Yemei Teshuvah) which lasts from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, we read Ha’azinu, this week’s Torah portion.
God speaks to Moses and says: “You shall die on the mountain that you are about to ascend … You may view the land from a distance, but you shall not enter the land that I am giving to the Israelites” (Deuteronomy 32:50-52). 
After leading the Israelites for over 40 years, Moses is told he would only get a glimpse of the place he had been looking forward to most of his life. 
Moses is considered the greatest prophet in Jewish history, and even he did not get everything he wanted.
It is the nature of humans to dream and desire, and it is the reality of our world that life is finite. On these 10 days, we face this truth in order to return ourselves to what truly matters.
During this time, we have a chance to acknowledge our mistakes and learn from them. We reassess our goals and see if they still matter. We pray for the courage to change.
The time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a meditation on human fragility, but it is not morbid. We contemplate our limitations in order to remember what is most important to us.
As the poet Mary Oliver says: “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
When Moses realized he would not enter the Promised Land, was he disappointed the way the woman at the assisted living facility had been? Or did he look back over his rich, long life and marvel at all he had experienced?
We can hope that as Moses came to terms with his mortality, he was able to look at all he had accomplished with pride. We can hope that he was able to find satisfaction in knowing that his legacy would continue.
May this season of renewal inspire us to reflect on what we hold most dear and to return to our true purpose.
May we have the strength to change so that we can look at the fullness of our lives with gratitude and not regret.
And may all of our actions help to bring greater peace and blessing into the world.
Rabbi Elisa Goldberg is director of Jewish Community Services for Jewish Family and Children’s Service and co-president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia.


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