In this week’s portion, God tells Moses to ascend Mount Nevo where he is to die “in the middle of the day.” The Sages explain that the Jewish people had decided they were not letting Moses go without a fight. He had taken them out of Egypt, split the sea, given them the Torah and provided manna for 40 years. Who wants a terrific leader like that to move on?
That explains why God took Moses “in the middle of the day” – to show the Jewish people that no one could stop Him from taking Moses back.
Now here’s a paradox: During Moses’ lifetime, the Jewish people complained about his leadership over and over again. And yet, when push came to shove, they were desperate for him to stay.
Human beings, and most especially we Jews, love to hang on to the past. We are always challenged to enjoy the now because the past, once it’s gone, always seems so much rosier. Appreciating the now is our greatest challenge. The truth is, though, that the now is all that we have. Our life is lived only in the now. The past exists only in our memory; the future only in our imagination. All that we have is every precious, but fleeting, moment through which we experience our lives. And nostalgia can so easily make the “now” seem so miserable.
The truth is that after Moses was gone, the Jewish people did fine. New and different leaders came along who led each generation with their own unique set of capabilities. The Jewish people grew, developed and thrived – all without Moses to lead them. In retrospect, keeping Moses alive was not the solution for them. The solution was to come to terms with the incredible possibilities that remained even when he was not there.