Friday Night's Sermon (July 24, 2020): "Moses' Example"


This week’s Torah portion starts the book of “Devarim” or “Deuteronomy”. This is the last book of the Torah and we hear Moses giving his discourses to the Israelites who will now take over and settle the promised land, the “Land of Milk and Honey”. Moses reviews many of the laws and charges this new generation to observe Torah by remaining faithful to the covenant and teachings of G-d.

Moses, himself, will not be allowed to enter the promised land after he struck the rock instead of talking to it to bring forth water. This is Moses’ consequence, perhaps the final incident, for not consecrating G-d’s name in front of the congregation of Israel. Moses reviews the last thirty-eight years of wandering in the wilderness, the incidents—especially what gave rise to the generation of the Exodus not being able to enter the land—as a warning for this new generation that had not known slavery.

Consider Moses’ attitude. He has spent the last thirty-eight years leading and taking care of two million people who complained about almost everything. He had to intervene between them and God, who at one point wanted to eliminate them and make Moses the head of a new people on a few different occasions. The stress of having to constantly reassure his people and deal with their rebellions and complaining apparently took a toll on him as he lost his temper and disobeyed G-d’s command to talk to the rock and bring forth water. He now will not be leading, or even joining them, in this new, promised land.

And yet, here he is, giving a final farewell and relaying the Torah to this new generation that will need it to live in this new land. As he prepares to go off and die, he is being gracious and still relaying G-d’s message. Instead of being resentful and disgruntled, he has accepted his fate, the consequence of his actions, and continues to think of his charges.

How many of us would behave so magnanimously in the face of this level of punishment? Moses had done just about everything G-d asked him to do, he led over two million people for forty years and where ’s his reward? Moses accepts his fate and continues to do the right thing.

What an example for the rest of us! What do we do when life does not go our way? How do we react when we make plans and life throws us some curves?

Moses’ behavior and attitude are an example to all of us. Moses had the integrity to accept his fate and still do the right thing even when things were not going his way. Instead of being sour, he stayed true to his mission.

Judaism gives examples about how to behave in the face of adversity. Jacob was in the employ of his uncle-in-law Laban. Jacob spent twenty years working for him and then wanted to leave and take his family to a place where they could live their own lives and sort of start his own business.

Laban went after him, caught up to him, complaining that he left so hurriedly. Jacob admonished him that “he had changed their agreement a hundred times!”. How many of us have had work experiences like Jacob’s in which our employer had made promises to us and did not follow through or imposed difficult working conditions? We tend to feel betrayed, upset, disgruntled, and maybe we’re thinking that we’re not going to work so hard and see just how little work we can do and still stay employed? We’re thinking that we want retribution and vindication.

Our sages see Jacob’s behavior, however, as proper work behavior. Throughout his employ with Laban, Jacob still did the job and work that he accepted and was expected of him. Even though Laban broke his part of the deal, Jacob still had the integrity to do the work which he agreed to do. Even though our employer may have broken their agreement, it is still our obligation to meet our end of the agreement.

Of course, because of his proper behavior, Jacob became very wealthy. Although Moses did not get to enter the promised land, G-d had him stand on the mountain while he showed him the results of his efforts. Moses got to see a future Israel, where Jews would have their own land.

Moses was our greatest prophet. Reluctant at first to accept G-d’s charge, Moses rose to the occasion and grew tremendously during the time he served G-d and his people. He became our greatest and most beneficent leader, thinking only of others, believing in them when they didn’t believe in themselves, and with his brother Aaron, helping them to become the best they can be even in the face of profound disappointment.

While it is a lot easier said than done, we all would be well served to look at Moshe Rabbeinu’s behavior and emulate G-d’s greatest prophet.

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