October 7, 2022/ 12 Tishrrei 5783
One of my greatest struggles with the stories of the Torah is that I don’t always like the way the stories end. Come to think of it, I don’t always like the events that unfold during the stories themselves.
When I was younger, and I shared these concerns, I remember being told that the Torah is a historical account of our ancestors’ lives and experiences and that life doesn’t always turn out the way we want it to. For many years that answer sufficed. It was basically my teachers’ version of, “because I said so.” However, as I developed a more critical eye, I realized that it wasn’t so much the life stories that bothered me as much as it was Gd’s transcendence and direct involvement in creating outcomes that seemed unfair to me.
I realize I was, and still am, in no position to question Gd’s actions. I am but a speck of dust on a grain of sand in the middle of an infinite desert. However, each of us develops an understanding of Gd from the stories we learn and our personal experiences in the world. Yet, unfortunately, and all too frequently, I experienced a disconnect between how I thought Gd should have acted in one of those biblical stories and, ultimately, how Gd, in fact, did respond. Of course, no story elicited this disconnect for me more so than the conclusion of this week’s Torah portion, Haazinu.
“You shall die on the mountain you are about to ascend… for you broke faith with Me among the Children of Israel, at the waters of the holy Meribat in the wilderness of Zin, by failing to sanctify Me among the Children of Israel. You may view the land from a distance, but you shall not enter the land that I am giving to the Children of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 32:50-52)
To be fair, I absolutely believe in consequences to negative actions, and when Moses opted to hit the rock instead of “speak” to it, as Gd had commanded him, yes, I expected Moses to be admonished… maybe even punished, but this, this outcome was too unfair for my innate sense of justice.
Fast forward at least two, probably three decades to when I happened to come across a random quote on leadership by prolific author and speaker, John Maxwell, “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”.
It wasn’t until I came across this quote that I realized I was reading the story of Moses from Gd’s perspective. Never was I going to understand or even appreciate the story from Gd’s perspective. It wasn’t until I shifted to Moses as the central character of this story that I began to understand its lesson. As Maxwell underscored, Moses could have stopped leading from the moment he was punished at Meribat and said, “What’s the point to continue leading this group; I personally won’t reap the reward of entering into the Promised Land?” Or Moses could have taken the approach, “Gd really won’t do this to me. I’ve done so many more righteous acts than errors that Gd will eventually find mercy and let me enter the Promised Land.”
Rather, what we see is that Moses fully understood the eventual outcome of his behavior and once again demonstrated his exceptional leadership and legacy. Moses adjusted his proverbial sails and began to mentor his eventual successor, Joshua.
How often do we find ourselves in situations where we are trying to make sense of another’s actions? Why did so-and-so get upset with me? Why did so-and-so behave the way they did?
The lesson to be learned from this week’s Torah portion is that we can spend our time trying to see the world through another’s eyes, or we can simply try to make the most of the situation we’re in. We must always remember we can only control the things within our control.
Having just concluded our holiest days of the year, our time to forgive, to grow, and to reflect on the opportunities that lay ahead. May we begin the year by reaching out to someone whom we know would benefit from our outstretched hand. No matter the reason why we grew apart, let’s start the year by considering all the reasons we should be together because we are…