This Shabbat we come to the intermediary Shabbat that serves as the bridge between the beginning of the festival of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which concludes the festival. It is, in a sense, another type of “turning”. We spiritually moved through Ellul to Rosh Hoshonnah and Yom, Kippur and now move through the festival of Sukkot which literally sees us “turn” the pages of the Torah from end to beginning. In a matter of days we will begin to read Torah again and the symbolism is very clear: a new year, a new beginning, a new “scroll of life” to be written.
What may get lost in many congregations this cycle is that very last portion of Deuteronomy which may get left to be read at Simchat Torah in conjunction with the beginning of Genesis. Yet, this last section of Torah, the portion “V’zot Ha’B’racha”, is a haunting section that deserves to be studied and discussed. It contains the death of Moses section, about which there have been many commentaries. There is also a verse that, to me, speaks to a view of aging that can serve as a guide to each of our own journeys. “And Moses was 120 years old when he died; his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.” (Deuteronomy 34:7)
Now, at 120, we would expect that our eyes may be a little dimmed and our energy level depleted. In truth, Moses says so on 31:2. But, again, Torah is often symbolic language. What can this message from 34:7 be? Let me suggest that it is a message that Judaism speaks to us that no matter what age or condition we may find ourselves in, that there is, up to our last breath,a possibility for spiritual growth. One never knows when our “eyes” may be opened to a new truth or that we may find the passion for a new cause. This verse sets out a vision for healthy and spiritual aging, of an embrace of the reality of our own journey and, in a way, a critique of much of our own society that still worships a cult of youth and is ageist in many aspects.
And, this message of growth and renewal fits perfectly in to the season and the idea of the festival of Sukkot. At this stage of life, we can begin to harvest the richness of our own life experiences. This harvest can be used to propel us into the next stages of our own life’s journey, allowing us to continue to grow and see the world that is still ahead with our own undimmed eyes.”
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Richard F Address