This week we meet a fascinating section of Torah, one that opens the door to several very meaningful discussions. There is the challenge of the Daughters of Zelophechad regarding their ability to inherit their father’s portion. There is the passage in Numbers 27 that follows the daughters’ passages; a series of verses that outline the beginnings of the transfer of power from Moses to Joshua. And then there is the section in which Moses learns that he will not enter the Promised Land, indeed, he learns he will die without reaching this dreamed of goal.In typical Biblical fashion, the news is delivered in a short, quick sentence. “God spoke to Moses: Ascend the heights of Abarim and view the land that I have given to the Israelites. When you have seen it, you too shall be gathered to you kin, just as Aaron your brother was.” (Numbers 27:12,13). God reminds Moses that his act of disobeying God’s orders in the wilderness of Zin is the reason he will not live to see his dream fulfilled. (27:14 and see Numbers 20). At least Moses is given a reason for his death!
Here, in these two verses, can be found THE religious/spiritual question for us all. There is the reality of our own mortality. Human beings understand this. We comprehend this fact and, I suggest, at some time in our life’s journey, this reality comes up against our desire not to die. The result of that confrontation can change lives and restructure one’s spirit. Certainly the reality is present as we age. It is hard not to see it, as slowly, we begin see loved ones, family and friends, die. That “why” question nags at us, often in the quiet moments of daily life. This confrontation between our desire to live and the reality that we will not is the reason why religions were born. In his book “Staring At The Sun”, Irvin Yalom writes: “Self awareness is a supreme gift, a treasure as precious as life. This is what makes us human. But it comes with a costly price: the wound of mortality. Our existence is forever shadowed by the knowledge that we will grow, blossom,and inevitably, diminish and die…Death anxiety is the mother of all religions, which, in one way or another, attempt to temper the anguish of our finitude.”
How we choose to deal with this reality of our own mortality is the test of living. It defines who we are and what we leave behind. Again, as Jews, the role of and centrality of choice is key. We shall see this again in Deuteronomy. As we get older, and this reality is more present, many of us do change our approach to life. We understand that the continued acquisition of material things is a folly and we begin to look at how we can gather around us the real “stuff” of life: friends, family, relationships and contributions to community that make an impact on the future. Each of us chooses to do this on our own way, as there is no set paradigm. Yet, each of us do make these choices. We hope they are choices for life!
Rabbi Richard F Address