Va'etchanan - Weekly Torah Portion

No matter when it happens a leader retiring from a leadership position will have that urge to find a way to continue to lead. Moses is no different and admits it, “I also pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying, ‘O Lord God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as Yours? Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan,]that good hill country and Lebanon.’” In these few sentences Moses sums up the yearning of a leader to see the future, experience what will happen from now and moving forward. This is because it is the duty of a leader to look way into the future, even when deep in one’s heart it is clear to the leader that there is not enough time in a human’s life to actually experience it. The satisfaction has to come from the profound understanding of the leader that things were so set by her or him so that based on the layers added a good direction was taken, a direction that will allow the leaders of the future to continue to build upon it.

The Hebrew language has some unique aspects to it and therefore the selection of words is crucial. Moses, as the translation says it requests, “Let me, I pray, cross over”. However the Hebrew version may be telling us a different story by using the words “אֶעְבְּרָה-נָּא”. The root ע.ב.ר. may possibly suggest three different options: that which has happened in the past, עָבָר, that which is grown in the womb – a fetus - עוּבָּר, or the passing from one place to another, עָבַר. In that respect the translation from the Hebrew text does not do justice to that which it is trying to deliver, the past, the present and the future. Moses, throughout his speech detailed in Deuteronomy, describes the past, which he knows well, but his hopes are for the future, he wants to plant the seeds, mold the growth for a better future, a future that will happen in a land which he will never lay foot on.

It may seems as if there is a lot of sadness in all of this. A person puts in a lot of effort, sweat and toil but does not reap the fruits of this action, fruits that we think he or she may well deserve to enjoy. Moses, however, gets the point and the need for the transition and therefore follows the guidance he receives regarding his successor, “charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him”. He fully comprehends that he is actually rooted in the history of the People of Israel, as well as their present and future. That is true even if he, as all humans, will end his life long before the mission is complete, if it can ever be completed.

Moses gets his opportunity, “Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes”. You need to read this again and concentrate, “lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east”. He is on the other side of the Jordan river, it is impossible for him to look at all directions and see the Promised Land and therefore I think he is not asked to see the physical land. May be this “lift up your eyes” actually means for him to close them and imagine, from as up high as possible, as far as imaginable, all the possibilities that lay around.

Too many times in our lives we fall deep into the toils of the day, that which is routine, demanding and undoubtedly necessary. Fewer are the times were despite the challenges of the days, we force ourselves to climb the mountain, up high, shut our eyes and then look around and see what will be` what can be. May be we will not be those who cross the Jordan, those who will mold the future in great and exciting ways. However this does not mean that we are not an integral part of it, as something from each and every one of us is there, especially on those occasions when we made it to the top of the mountain. Then made it back down and made ourselves and others aware to what can be achieved and generate the spirit that takes us there.

It was the great Chinese philosopher Confucius who said, “The man who says he can, and the man who says he cannot… Are both correct.” Sometimes we err to think that leadership is the business of a prime minister, a president, a monarch, or a chief executive officer of a company. This is not the case, leadership is the business of everyone who says they can, it is between a person and his or her heart, it is between them and the family, friends, groups of people, a nation or even groups larger than that. It urges us to navigate through the difficulties of life and we may not shake it off of our shoulders. Leading people is a timed activity it begins and it ends as circumstances change, as time in office is prolonged` the past greatness of the leader is unimportant and what matters is if the leader continues to poses the capability to continue to lead into the future. Moses was essential to take a nation of slaves and bring them to the verge of freedom in their own land. From that point onwards a new type of leadership was essential, a leader who can fight new wars, reach compromises, learn and update. That is life – Moses as great a leader as he was, and despite of the difficulty, understand that, and we are left with the questions if we are wise enough to ask the same from ourselves as well as from others.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 16 August 2019, 16 Menachem-Av, 5779

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