Moses’ plans, like our own, sometimes do not come to fruition


This week’s Torah portion, Ve’ethanan (“And I (Moses) made supplication…”), is one of the most packed of all of them. As Moses continues the review which he began last week, he hits on two high points of Jewish tradition: the Asseret Hadibrot (the so-called “Ten Commandments”) and the first paragraph of the Shema (Hear, O Israel, etc.). The latter is one of the center points around which the morning and evening services are constructed. The former is revered by Jew and non-Jew alike and was the source of much controversy following 9-11 with regard to the “separation clause” of the United States Constitution.

However, it is the beginning of the portion that contains feelings with which many are familiar. Moses recounts to the people his disappointment that he will not be leading them into the Promised Land. Though he made supplication to God to allow him to do so, his prayers were answered in the negative. He was to be counted among those of the generation who were to die in the wilderness. They had all died by this time, including his sister, Miriam, and his brother, Aaron. Only he remained along with Calev and Joshua, who were brave enough to bring back a different, more positive report than the other spies thirty-eight years prior.

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Moses, upon hearing that he would not be leading the people into the Promised Land, tried to bargain with God, according to the midrash, the rabbinic exposition of the text. If he could not lead, perhaps he could simply accompany the people into the land. However, when Joshua was called into the Tent of Meeting by God, says the midrash, Moses asked him what had transpired. Joshua answered, “You never told me what God said to you, when you went into the mishkan. I cannot tell you.” It was then that Moses realized that he could be no mere participant after leading the people for a third of his life, forty years.

Everyone has goals. Moses’ goal was to bring the people back home. He was not able to fulfill it; he only approached its completion by bringing them to the point of entry. There are many who do not fulfill their goals, for various reasons. When they are held back from completing their goals, they mourn. In order to move on, one has to mourn one’s loss. In the midrash, Moses is able to mourn and actually goes through the five stages of grief as described by the late Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Goals are one of the means by which people use to define themselves as well as to measure their “success” or “failure” in life. Goals are set in many different areas of life, whether it is in one’s career, one’s finances, one’s avocations, or one’s family life.

Part of being human is this need to plan. Human beings are always planning ahead. There is an entire part of the financial market that deals exclusively with “futures.” If that is not about planning, what is? When a couple learn that they are expecting a child, by the time that child is born, they have talked about plans they have for this child well into the future, sometimes including which college or university that child will be attending!

What happens when those plans come to pass? What happens when that child does not have the interest or the aptitude for that college or university? What happens when one plans for retirement, only to find that those plans have fallen through? What happens when one plans a move, only to learn that that position has been filled by someone else? People have so many plans — plans for the day, for the week, for the month, for the year, for the next five years. There are plans made for one’s entire lifetime. Where is the guarantee that those plans will come to fruition?

Moses’ plan to enter the Promised Land at the head of his people has been dashed. He has to mourn that fact and come to some acceptance of it, before he can go on and provide the guidance that his people require from him before they enter it. The plans that everyone makes do not always come to pass, and they, too, must mourn and then make new plans, if they are to continue to contribute to the greater good and to continue living meaningful lives.