The long trek home

By Maharat Rori Picker Neiss

The emotion is palpable.  

 Moses, the great leader of the Israelite people, has devoted his entire life to the Jewish people and to bringing them closer towards the fulfillment of God’s promise that they be God’s people in the Holy Land. He has shed tears and sweat, labored and suffered, for these people. He has listened to them complain, watched them sin, endured their hardships, witnessed their punishments, fought alongside them in battle. Now, standing on the banks of the land that God promised to his ancestors, Moses knows that his leg of the journey ends in that place. He is acutely aware that he will never be able to feel the earth of Israel on his feet. He knows that all of the promises, all of his life’s work, is about to be realized, and he will forever remain outside the land. He is overwhelmed with despair, dejection and grief.  

 And Moses begins to plea.   

Moses pleads with God to allow him to enter the land of Israel.   

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He says to God: Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan, that good hill country and the Lebanon (Deuteronomy 3:25).   

God replies, succinctly and forcefully: The Lord said to me, “Enough! Never speak to Me of this matter again! 

(Deuteronomy 3:26).   

God allows Moses to climb the mountain and to see the land, but Moses is still forbidden to enter. Moses will never experience the land he has worked so hard to reach.  

 And what does Moses say in response? Moses who has argued with God not to destroy the Israelites, Moses who has intervened on behalf of countless other individuals, what does he say to God?   

He says nothing.  

Not only does Moses say nothing in response to God, but in a heart-wrenching scene, Moses then turns to the Israelites and begins to speak to them. He says: And now, O Israel, give heed to the laws and rules that I am instructing you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you (Deuteronomy 4:1).  

Moses continues to lead the people.   

Moses displays a powerful show of strength and resilience. Many of us, if put into the same position, might have let our despair overwhelm us. Or we might have decided that if the reward was no longer guaranteed, the actions were no longer worth the effort.  

 In this moment, we learn an important lesson from Moses.   Moses models for us that a leader does not only lead to reap the fruits of her labor. To be a leader, indeed, to be a prophet, is sometimes to guide people into a future that you yourself will never see. A true leader is someone who looks ahead to that destiny, holds the goal and guides people on the path, knowing that the future will be greater, even if it is for generations not yet born.  

 Our path does not end where our personal journey ends. The path is far vaster than any of us are capable of walking. It started long before we stepped onto it, and it will continue long after we step off. Our job is not to make our own voyage more enjoyable, but to make sure that the path is set for the next generation to take on the trek.

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss is Director of Programming, Education and Community Engagement at Bais Abraham Congregation.