It is one week before Rosh HaShana and we have almost completed a full cycle of reading of the Torah. This week we read two portions, “Nitsavim” that reads, “You stand today, all of you, before the Lord your God: your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water”. We also read from “VaYelech”, “So Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel. And he said to them, ‘I am a hundred and twenty years old today; I am no longer able to come and go, and the Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross this Jordan.’’” For the Haftarah we read the words of the prophet Hosea, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, / For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.” Therefore, we have this week a dimension of a beginning, a dimension of an end, and a restart dimension that occurs after a failure. These are the words we read on the verge of the upcoming New Year 5781.
“You stand today, all of you” speaks to everyone, those who are present there and then but also others, “those who are not with us here today.” It is a long-term covenant, one which will experience ups and downs, successes and failures. Nevertheless, it will be reestablished over and over again.
“So Moses went” speaks the language of personal, human finality. Even though the covenant transcends generations, it cannot cross the limits of the life time of a human being. A person, as great as she or he may be, distinguished and important, will face the same fate. Sooner or later she or he are destined to step down off stage and someone else will step in. The process of “Moses went” has a dimension of an end to it, and in the same time also a dimension of a new beginning albeit for someone else.
“Return, O Israel” returns to speak at the national language, call for the renewal, the option of doing things differently. Remember the failures, learn from them and start all over again. It is a new beginning rooted in the past but encapsulates within it the promises of the future. The prophet reminds this downfall, “Assyria will not save us, / We will not ride on horses; / Nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’ / To the work of our hands”. He also offers some comfort, “I will heal their apostasy, / I will love them freely, / For My anger has turned away from them. / I will be like the dew to Israel;
He will blossom like the lily, / And he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon. / His shoots will sprout, / And his beauty will be like the olive tree / And his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon.”
The month of Elul is reaching its end. It is a month for repentance, a month in which we are given the opportunity to understanding the passing years, its difficulties, its events, its failures. It is also a time to ponder about successes, reaching profound comprehension of situations past. The end of the year is also the realization that there is a new year ahead of us. A year where we can start anew, influence our surrounding in additional ways, open our eyes and see that which we tried so hard to avoid. Sometimes it was done unintentionally, at other times purposefully. Every time we did it this led to some kind of a crisis, for us or for others that we could not timely alert about.
This past year was not an easy one with internal and external events influencing its course. A small but deadly virus attacked in mid-year and since that time we are suffering not only from the consequences of the virus but also from the inability of many of our leaders to look as straight into the eyes, speak the truth. To say the truth when it is bitterly painful, when they have to demand “blood, toil, tears and sweat.” I do not intend to underestimate the challenge they are facing, even among professionals there are different approaches to this matter. The debate is legitimate. Sometimes it falls upon leaders to make tough decisions at conditions of uncertainty and at extreme odds. Hindsight is not the way to judge their decision making. However, quality leadership should prepare the country on where it is blatantly obvious what needs to be done. Having epidemiological investigation capabilities, proper, clear and readily available operating procedures, are just some of what needs to be put in place and is still missing. Simply put, LEADERSHIP.
Moses accept this need to go because he profoundly understands, as the great leader that he was, that he cannot continue any longer. He say to the people, “I am no longer able to come and go” even though it is said, after his death that, “Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.” Deep inside him he knew it was time to go. Extreme difficulties lay ahead of the people and for that next phase they needed a leader who is fit for the task ahead, not one who strength lay in his past.
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for good health to all. Shana Tova.
Reuven Marko, 11 September 2020, 23 Elul, 5780