Sukkot concludes this weekend with Simchat Torah. We finish the Torah with the reading of the portion V’zot ha’bracha and begin immediately with Genesis 1. From the death of Moses to Creation, we play out again the cycle of death and birth, end and beginning, a symbolic description of each of our lives. It is l’dor vador, from generation to generation.
The death of Moses is one of the most powerful and meaningful passages in Torah. Midrash is filled with stories of his last hours, his arguing and eventual acceptance. He is said to die with “eyes undimmed and vigor unabated” (34:7). And there is also the famous Midrash that Moses dies as a result of a divine kiss. But there is also a symbolic rendering of the end of Moses’s life that reflects our current challenge. Rabbi Jonathan Saks writes of this passage with great passion as he reflects on the fact that Moses dies alone. There is no mention of family. Moses’s brother and sister have died, his wife and children are not mentioned and Joshua, who is taking over his leadership, is also not present. “There are no crowds. There is no weeping. The sense of closeness yet distance is almost overwhelming. He sees the land from afar but has known for some time that he will never reach it….Moses has become the lonely man of faith, except that with God no man, or woman, is lonely even if they are alone.” ( Essays on Ethics. p.335)
How powerful an image. How sad that this image is also being played out now as so many, impacted with Covid, are isolated and forced to deal with this disease, or die, alone.How painful is the fact that family members, in many cases, cannot be present to hold and care for a loved one and perhaps, echoing the Midrash, kiss a loved one good-bye! There is the hope, as Saks writes, that they are not alone, as God is with them. Of course, this opens the challenge for so many as to what those words really mean. So on this most unusual of Simchat Torah celebrations, I ask you to consider this: are we really ever alone? Does your God accompany you? Or is the ultimate reality of human existence the fact that we are alone, and that it is only through relationships that we find meaning, purpose and definition.
Chag Sameach. Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.