This week we reach one of the most poignant passages of text. Deuteronomy 31, 1 and 2. Moses stands beofre the people. Aware that his death may be near, that the transfer of power and leadership is at hand, he makes a powerful and personal declaration. “I am now 120 years old, I can no longer be active. Moreover, God has told me that ‘you shall not cross over the Jordon” (Deuteronomy 31.2). “I am no longer active” is how the Reform (Plaut) and Conservative (Etz Chaim) modern commentaries translate the Hebrew of “lo oochal od latzeit olavoh”. The more tradiitonal Chumash (Art Scroll) seems closer to the text as it translate this as “I can no longer go out or come in”. That same commentary mentions the fact that this does not refer to his age, as Moses–as we see later on–remains vibrant. Quoting Rashi and Maimonides, the commentary mentions that this refers to the fact that Moses was unable to lead the people in their conquest because Joshua had been chosen and that, since God had promised protection, it made no difference.
This passage has particular relevance to our generation. Many of us, no matter what our occupations, may find ourselves in a position that we also do not have the strength, or opportunity to “carry on”. Sometimes this is by our choice. Sometimes, it is foisted upon us. We feel “young at heart” and not ready to be reduced to being marginalized. It is a real life transition. I have seen this with colleagues who find, after leaving full time work, that they have no place to go. Used to 24/7 activity, there is a void because there is no daily routine and, as one colleague explained, “the phone does not ring”. Once again, we are faced with major life transition. We do not wish to “let go” but let go we must.
But this letting go can be a powerful opportunity to grow and evolve. There can be a sense of liberation in this letting go. I may not be able to “be active” in my previous way, however, I can be very active in new pursuits and new avenues for intellectual, spiritual and emotional growth. These transitions can be empowering for our generation if we come to see them as real opportunities for our oen personal evolution. To regress and lament that things are not what they used to be, or similar expressions of regret, can only trigger negative feelings and a turning inward. Perhaps one of the messages that the Torah may be sending us, in our age, is that though we may not be able to be “active” in ways we once were, there is no reason why we cannot use the gift of time to continue to explore the miracles of life and how we can seize these moments to sanctify the life we have. Just a thought!
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.