Weekly Torah Commentary — Ha’azinu September 25, 2015

Deuteronomy 32

That very day the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession. And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people … For you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”

Moses, the leader, the liberator, the lawgiver, the man who brought a group of slaves to freedom, turned a troublesome collection of individuals into a nation, and so transformed them that they grew into the people of God is about to die at the age of 120.

This is the Moses who interceded with God on behalf of the people, who performed signs and wonders, who gave the people its laws, confronted them when they sinned, gave his life to them and had his heart broken by them when they repeatedly failed to live up to the high calling of the God of Israel.

However, what we find so moving about the portrayal of Moses in the Torah is that his utter humanity is displayed before us. The Word of God does not sugarcoat doubts and shortcomings in its heroes, but instead paints them in all their glorious and inglorious moments so that we who also struggle with issues like obedience, discipline and humilty may know we are not alone – and more importantly – that we can overcome, even as the heroes of old did.

Moses is a human being. One one occasion he despairs and wants to die; on another, he loses his temper. He nearly loses his faith in the people he was called to lead out of slavery. He begs to be allowed to cross the Jordan and is told by God to stop asking! Moses is the hero of those who wrestle with the world as it is and with people as they are, knowing that “It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to stand aside from it.”

The Torah declares that “to this day no one knows where his grave is” (Deut. 34:6). It ensures that his grave will never become a place of pilgrimage for it is all too easy to turn human beings, after their death, into saints, forgetting their flaws and exaggerating their virtues. That is precisely what the Torah opposes.

Moses is a role model for each of us;. the symbol of a human being made great by what he strove for, not by what he actually achieved. The references to him in the Torah: “the man Moses,” “God’s servant,” “a man of God,” are at once humble and inspiring.

What then does the example of Moses say to the 21st century Bible believer?

That it is right to fight for justice even against regimes that seem indestructible. That God is with us when we take our stand against oppression. That we must have faith in those we lead, and when we cease to have faith in them we can no longer lead them. That change is possible though it make take more time than our individual lifetime.

In one of its most powerful statements about Moses, the Torah states that he was “a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were undimmed and his strength unabated” (34:8). These are not simply physical descriptions. That his eyes were not dimmed is precisely why his strength was unabated. His eyes were not dimmed because he never lost his spiritual vision, his understanding of his calling and his destiny. Though he doubted himself at times, he never lost faith in the God who had called him and the mission he had been given. And THAT is precisely why his strength was unabated.

Moses, without ever ceasing to be human, teaches us that we can all fulfill our purpose.

That is the greatness and the humility of aspiring to be “a servant of God.”

In Tune with Torah this week = recognizing that our own weaknesses and failures do not disqualify us from fulfilling the call of God on our lives, the destiny for which we were born. Rather through those very missteps, if we choose rightly, we, like Moses, can grow into the ‘servant of God’ that we aspire to be.

NOTE: The final ‘blood moon’ of the tetrad will occur this Sunday evening, September 27th. Please check out this link to learn when you will be able to see it where you live. It’s a spectacular and rare event so don’t miss it.

The Final Blood Moon of the Tetrad

Shabbat Shalom!

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