Imagine what it must feel like to spend much of your life devoted to fulfilling an ultimate goal and then falling short. Olympic athletes know this feeling; how many have trained for years only to make one mistake. They fail to medal or even qualify for a final round and then have to live with question of “what could I have done differently?”
Moses, the great leader of our people faces this situation this week. He has led the Israelites to the threshold of the Promised Land. They are about to enter, however, Moses will not be able to lead them into the land. Instead, he will gaze into the land from atop Mount Pisgah and die just steps from having completed the task that he has devoted the last forty years to achieving. And why? Because of a relatively minor mistake he made, in the heat of the moment, several years earlier when he didn’t fully follow God’s commandment.
In this week’s portion, Va’ethanan, Moses pleads to God to let him step foot into the Promised Land, and to reverse the decree God made previously. But God says no. “Enough! Never speak of this matter to me again!” (Deut.3:26).
When Moses dies at the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, he will have given the last forty years of his life to leading the Israelites to this place. It has been a long journey filled with triumph and defeat and numerous challenges to his leadership. In the end he will be left unfulfilled. He will not experience the exuberant feeling of being able to enter into the Promised Land himself.
In this week’s ReformJudiam.org’s Torah study
, Rabbi Marc Saperstein writes about the disappointments we often face in our lives. We strive to achieve certain goals, but fall short. Children realize at a certain point that they won’t become professional athletes; business people that they won’t become CEOs, attorneys that they won’t become judges, physicians that they might not find the cure to a disease.
Yet when we celebrate our achievements and our contributions to this world and when we move beyond the disappointment of failing to achieve our ultimate goals, we can find some peace and solace. As Rabbi Saperstein teaches, “From Moses we learn that no matter how talented or influential we may be, the future is not always malleable to our desires and our will; disappointment is woven into the fabric of the human condition; and whatever the answer we receive to our prayer, we can accept our lot, our limits, and our mortality, with dignity and peace. May we take heart from his example.”
I encourage you to spend a few minutes reading his d’var Torah
and reflect on what it means to accept our lot and our limits and to celebrate the ways, big and small, that we do experience success and achievement.