D’var Torah: Moses sets the standard for living our best selves 

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Rabbi Amy Feder

Rabbi Amy Feder 

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Moses has finally led the Israelites across the wilderness and he turns his eyes to gaze on the Promised Land. It seems as if it should be a joyous moment, but we know that it’s actually bittersweet, even devastating: Moses may be able to look upon the land, but God has determined that he will never enter it. 

Moses pleads with God, hoping to appeal to God’s mercy, but God responds harshly, telling him: “It is enough for you; speak to Me no more regarding this matter.” 

What a terrible disappointment and loss this must have been for Moses. For years, he had been tirelessly leading the Israelites, with all of their kvetching and rebelling, carefully laying the groundwork for the new society they’d build together based on God’s laws. Yet because of one mistake, he’ll never have the chance to see the future he has spent so many years working toward.

How unfair this must have felt. There are so many ways Moses could have responded to this moment. He could have lashed out in anger against God. He could have tried to prove God wrong and attempted crossing into the Land anyway. He could have refused to move from his spot and left the Israelites to finish with journey without his assistance. This kind of disappointment could stop anyone in their tracks or lead them to acts of denial, jealousy or despair. 

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But instead, Moses moves on, and in the most beautiful of ways. He gathers his community with words of hope and blessing. He reminds them of how much they’ve been through together and gives them the tools they’ll need to move forward. He puts his energy into strengthening the position of the next leader and urges the people to have confidence in their future.

Each of us will have our own moments of disappointment and loss. And more often than not, those moments can seem profoundly, deeply unfair. It can be heartbreaking to not achieve what we most want, especially when we’ve put our all into it. 

Yet Moses’ example teaches us how to live with the understanding that while we may not get what we want, there are still so many ways to make sure we and our loved ones are able to keep fighting, keep flourishing, keep moving forward. 

Even in his disappointment, he lives the remainder of his days as the best version of himself, ensuring that his legacy will continue on. 

May we all have the wisdom, even in times of disappointment, to know how to keep living out our ideals and to ensure that the stories of our lives will not have been told in vain.

Amy Feder is senior rabbi at Congregation Temple Israel and the immediate past president of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.