Nitzavim-Vayelech: Keep Moving

Copyright 2013 Neal Joseph Loevinger
 
Torah Portion: Nitzavim- Vayelech

[Moshe]  said to them, “Today I am one hundred and twenty years old. I can no longer go or come, because the Lord said to me:You shall not cross this Jordan.” Deuteronomy/ D’varim31:2)

Good morning! We’re going to make one more valiant effort to restart our weekly Torah commentary despite the looming plethora of holidays and other logistical challenges. (Short version: you can never, ever get too many references on home contractors.)
 
The scene set by this week’s Torah reading is quite poignant: Moshe announces that he is 120 years old, apparently too old to lead the people any longer, and gives the people powerful exhortation to choose what is right and good as they continue on into the Land without him. Our friend Rashi sees the verse above as stressing the last part- that God has forbidden Moshe to enter the Land. Thus for Rashi, Moshe’s statement that he can “no longer go or come” simply means that his journey is over by Heavenly decree. 
 
So far, so good. On the other hand, maybe Moshe is not describing his external constraints but his internal state of being. The Hasidic sage Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin reminds us* that growth and change are constant throughout a person’s life- we never stop learning from our mistakes, repenting of the ways we have fallen short, and seeking to rise to a higher level in the coming year. We may, as we grow, reflect on mistakes made years earlier, when we were not yet wise enough to really do t’shuvah for these shortcomings, or even recognize them as such.
 
Thus, when Moshe says “I can no longer go or come,” in this reading he’s saying: I have reached a place where I’m no longer moving and growing and changing spiritually, I have attained the highest level I can, and thus my life has reached its fulfillment and conclusion. For the rest of us, please note: that took Moshe 120 years. I have no such excuse! 
 
The point is not that when we get stuck, we should give up; the point is that Moshe kept struggling to reach higher and higher levels until the very end of his life and even then sought to use every bit of his energy to teach and encourage and transform his people. Every one of us is still “going out and coming in,” that is, going off the path of our ideals and principles and coming back into relationship with God, ourselves and others. That is the primary work of the Days of Awe just ahead. The good news is this: the gates of return are always open. 
 
Shabbat Shalom, 
 
RNJL 
 
* This passage is quoted by Norman Lamm in the magisterial work “The Religious Thought of Hasidism,” 363-4. Above is a creative paraphrase. 
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