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When a Blessing Doesn’t Feel Like a Blessing

Maayan-Sands

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And the LORD said to him [Moshe]: “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying: I will give it to your seed; I have caused you to see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross over [to the land]” (Deuteronomy 34:4).

We stood in a large circle. The Torah was completely unrolled and each of us, using a tallit or some other material as a buffer between our fingers and the parchment, held the Torah from the top. Without looking and without touching the Torah, we each reached over the top of the part we were holding and pointed to a pasuk. One of the several Torah scholars present came, read the pasuk each one of us had pointed to, translated it and gave us a blessing for the year based on the pasuk.

My heart sank when “my” scholar, Julie, read the pasuk to which I had (by chance?!) pointed. It was Deuteronomy 34:4 – a verse in Parasha VeZot haBeracha, what we read on Simchat Torah. I could tell that she really wanted to find a blessing in those words. There was a slight strain in her face as she processed the words. Perhaps I was projecting, but it seemed to me that she was hoping to turn them into a blessing for me. And all the while I’m thinking: These lines about the end of Moses’ life, about our (indirect) reminder of his lack of patience, when he hit the rock in order to get water out of it rather than spoke to it as God had commanded; about how Moshe would lead the people to the land that God had promised their ancestors…but he would not enter it. Was this to be my blessing?

My promised land is the rabbinate. In many significant ways, beginning this process at the age of 60 was the beginning of my preparation for this goal. I’ve learned through five years of rabbinical school and survived cancer in the process. I struggled with my “not so young” and now compromised by chemotherapy, brain. Despite that Moses knew long before he was at the precipice of entering Canaan, that he would not enter, he must have felt profoundly sad and disappointed. Could Julie find a blessing for me in Moshe’s having spent his entire life leading the people to the precipice of Canaan, which he would only see it?

She tried.

She blessed me with the ability to see, to look at and be aware of everything that was around me, like Moshe was. Her blessing included that I should be humble like Moses, that I should have perseverance and the ability to look north and south, east and west to see and to appreciate the beauty of all of God’s creation. But I did not feel I had received a blessing. That I would have any connection to Moshe’s “coming up short” felt more like a curse. Taking my blessing of seeing, I was determined to find my as yet uncovered blessing, in Deuteronomy 34:4; that I would be like Moses, humble, compassionate and caring. Maybe, like Moshe, I would be blessed with a long life, one in which neither my vision (both literal and otherwise) nor my physical strength, would diminish. Maybe, though falling short of my promised land, I would know God, perhaps not face to face, but as more than an acquaintance. Maybe I would be aware of God as more of a constant presence in my life-and that would suffice. Even thinking those thoughts however, left me feeling anxious. Why couldn’t I both reach my “promised land” and as part of that journey, have evolved in my partnership with God?

When I shared my experience with my beloved husband, it did not surprise me that he had a different and much more hopeful, understanding of the blessing intended for me from this pasuk. In addition to having led the people to the land of Canaan, Moshe was a teacher of B’nai Yisrael. He was a transmitter of Torah from God to the generation that entered the promised-land. With patience, constant reminders, occasional reprimands and repetition, Moshe taught Torah to the people-God’s people. The blessing in Deuteronomy 34:4, my connection to it, is not, as I had imagined, in a literal interpretation of the situation in which Moshe found himself; but in the way he had led his life, in his love of God and Torah, in his compassion and his teaching and in the trust and respect and love that B’nai Yisrael had for him-and do to this day.

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There has never arisen another prophet in Israel, like Moshe-that he knew God, face to face.   Deut. 34:10

Moshe received Torah from God but he did not keep it only for himself. He spent his life giving it, teaching and sharing it with B’nai Yisrael. For every teaching of Torah that came from God to Moshe, at least one flowed out. Moshe received, and he gave in equal measure. The Torah lives because it is shared, taught to each subsequent generation. My teacher Rabbi Or Rose teaches about this parasha: “We are told that we are all Moses’s disciples; he is the da’at, the mind or awareness of Israel, and that passes on to us through the chain of tradition. But we also know that da’at has to be renewed in each generation.”[1]

So, here is take two of my blessing based on Deuteronomy 34:4:
May I be blessed to receive Torah from many different people and equally as blessed to be able to share it, to give it and teach it. May I “be faithful to my teachers”[2] and at the same time understand my students, so that I can speak Torah in a way that each one can understand and embrace. May I help those with whom I engage, see within themselves that spark of God that I see in each one of them. And may I feel gratitude for the many gifts I have been blessed with during the years of my life. May I embrace with wisdom and compassion the role that God has intended for me; a blessing in itself since I feel keenly aware of what my purpose is on earth. May I create students of Torah knowingly and unknowingly. And my I become the best partner with the creator of all life that I can be.

[1] Speaking Torah: Spiritual Teachings from around the Maggid’s Table, Volume 2, Arthur Green, with Ebn Leader, Ariel Evan Mayse and Or N. Rose, p. 154

[2] Ibid, p. 154

Ma’ayan Sands is a student in the Rabbinical School at Hebrew College. She will graduate in 2016.

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