This week’s portion, coming as it does between Rosh Hoshannah and Yom Kippur raises an interesting issue. Moses recognizes that he is elderly. He tells us in Deuteronomy 31:2 that he is “120 years old this day and can no longer go out and come in, and God has told me that ‘you shall not go into Jordan’ ” Moses seems to accept his physical age, his not being able to move as once did, yet, we wonder if he really accepts his spiritual age?
This Shabbat bridges the High Holidays. It is a Sabbath of Return, or Repentance. It carries with it the turning to Yom Kippur, the day when we, like Moses, stand on a sort of precipice. Moses, stands overlooking Canaan. He knows he cannot go into hat future, much as wishes; much as we wish we can go into our futures. He publicly supports his successor, Joshua, calling on him to “be strong and courageous”. The portion, in its realistic way, sets the stage for the conclusion of Deuteronomy and the death of Moses.
But what of that precipice? It is one that is given much play in these 10 days of reflection. We are reminded of the theme that all of us stand, at this season of the year, on a spiritual precipice. Can we move across it into a more fully human and holistic life? Can we continue to grow as a spiritual person? Or do we find ways to short-circuit this possibility, retreating, as we often do, into the safety of the status quo? I think Moses reminds us that no matter what the age we are, we can always continue to grow as a spiritual person. Even if beset with physical issues or disabilities, that does not, or cannot, prevent us from spiritual growth.
The mythical 120 year life span of Moses teaches us that our tradition gives us the permission, even the freedom, to continue to grow and evolve as a spiritual human being. That number also reminds us that there is a finite limit to our physical existence, and that it is against all that we hold dear as a Jewish tradition to waste that time. As long as we have a tomorrow there is always the opportunity to seek meaning, or even to be a conduit for someone to perform a mitzvah. Remember, we see in this passage again the word “ha yom”,(the day) as if Moses reminds us that every day presents us with a gift, a gift of time and that gift is a daily invitation to see and experience the world in new ways.
Rabbi Richard F Address