Shabbat Nakhamu: What If There Is No Consolation?

What if we don’t get there? This week our parashat hashavua is named for the pleading of our leader Moshe before HaShem; he begged to be allowed to take the final steps into the Land promised to his people, to see it for himself.

 

אֶעְבְּרָה־נָּ֗א וְאֶרְאֶה֙ אֶת־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַטּוֹבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּעֵ֣בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן הָהָ֥ר הַטּ֛וֹב הַזֶּ֖ה וְהַלְּבָנֽוֹן׃

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.”

 

וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר יְהוָ֥ה בִּי֙ לְמַ֣עַנְכֶ֔ם וְלֹ֥א שָׁמַ֖ע אֵלָ֑י וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֤ה אֵלַי֙ רַב־לָ֔ךְ אַל־תּ֗וֹסֶף דַּבֵּ֥ר אֵלַ֛י ע֖וֹד בַּדָּבָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה׃

But HaShem was wrathful with me on your account and would not listen to me; HaShem said to me, “Enough! Never speak to Me of this matter again! (Deut. 3.25-26)

 

No appeal, no reprieve. And Moshe went on to continue his work. Not for nothing is he called Moshe Rabbenu, Moshe our teacher. He might just as easily have quit then and there. After all, it wasn’t fair, as many midrashim poignantly convey. Yet he seemed wise enough to understand that the work of his life was neither defined nor belied by remaining incomplete.

 

“I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

 

These words spoken by our teacher Dr. Martin Luther King Jr the night before he was murdered are sometimes referred to as “the mountaintop speech.” He was speaking with that same wisdom, offering us that same lesson: it does not matter how or when we die, whether our life’s work was completed, whether the timing was “fair” in our eyes. It is enough of a blessing to be part of a meaningful life, to have one’s own life fulfilled in knowing that we are part of something bigger, something transcendent.

 

Something of Moshe Rabbenu is within us; something of Dr King as well. And lest you don’t feel famous enough to believe this, here is a third moment of illumination in the face of darkness:

 

Our greatest injury is the one we inflict upon ourselves. I find life beautiful and I feel free. The sky within me is as wide as the one stretching above my head. I believe in God and I believe in human beings and I say so without embarrassment. Life is hard, but that is no bad thing. If one starts by taking one’s own importance seriously, the rest follows…True peace will come only when every individual finds peace within; when we have all vanquished and transformed our hatred for our fellow human beings of whatever race – even into love one day, although perhaps that is asking too much. It is, however, the only solution. – Etty Hillesum, 1942

 

The injury we inflict is to let the maelstrom without define us within. We spend our lives learning the balance:

 

To begin with oneself, but not to end with oneself;

to start from oneself, but not to aim at oneself;

to comprehend oneself, but not to be preoccupied with oneself.

– Martin Buber, 1950

 

On this Shabbat our people lifts our collective head from the mourning of Tisha B’Av. Our tradition encourages us to take solace in the fact that life goes on, even as individual lives must end. In these Seven Weeks of Nekhemta, Consolation, upon which we now embark, each Shabbat will offer us a memory of all the good we know, from which we learn to draw strength as water from a never failing well.

 

It is not about us; it is all about us: our capacity for generosity, for love, and for celebrating life and its beauty in the face of fear. Let’s hold hands and find the way together.

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