Rosh HaShana – Where Are You Going?
In the second of last week’s double parsha, VaYeilech, Moshe is near the end of his line. He is about to die and is now giving his final words to the Israelites. The Torah narrates, “And Moshe went and he spoke these words to all of Israel.” The problem is that the Torah doesn’t tell us where he went, let alone why. It could have simply stated, “And Moshe spoke these words…”
The commentaries offer their various views of where he went, ranging from the practical – he went to each tribe to inform them of his impending demise, to the esoteric – he went to the heavens and told the forefathers that God is fulfilling His promise to them.
Whatever you may wish to conjecture, the fact that the Torah doesn’t inform us is telling in its own right. It doesn’t reveal the destination because perhaps Moshe himself did not know. וילך משה which literally translates as, “And Moshe walked…” or went, is purposefully elliptical and leaves us with a blank because even for Moshe, Death is an unknown and he himself is at a loss as to where exactly he is headed.
It happens to be that the first words to the first Jew, Avraham were not only the same, but had this same quality of an unknown destination. Way back in the book of Genesis, when we are first introduced to Avraham, God appears to him for the first time with the phrase לך לך – “Go for yourself, from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” And so we have Avraham beginning his dramatic and fateful journey with the words, לך going/walking. It happens to be that he is also going to an unknown place since God did not inform him at the outset what his destination would be but vaguely tells him, “to the land that I will show you.”
Avraham and Moshe – two bookends in the formation of the Jewish people. Avraham and Moshe – it is hard to name either one of them as secondary in importance to the other regarding the creation and definition of the Jewish nation, history and experience. Avraham commencing the Jewish narrative at the beginning of the Torah and Moshe ending it. And so it cannot be accidental that the Torah recounts pivotal moments of these two major pillars of Jewish life in the same fashion and with the same quality of mystery.
It teaches that the life of the Jewish people as an entity, and the lives of each of us individually, is one of לך – going, moving, departing. And not just travelling, but then to…? To the unknown and to the unfamiliar. It symbolizes the fact that the history of our people has been one of constant movement from one place to another without much foreknowledge of where we will end up. For thousands of years it has been this way as we have been scattered to the four corners of the globe, as prophesied over and over again, never knowing exactly where we will end up and for how long.
And similarly, from a personal perspective, when you look back on your own life I am sure you will see this selfsame dynamic. Movement to places or situations that you would never have dreamed of or imagined. Lech/Going… and then a big question mark. Where exactly am I headed? What will the critical decisions that I make in life hold in store for me? The decisions of job, life partner, children, country I choose to live in. We make the choice but have so little foreknowledge of what it really means and where it will take us.
Moving into unfamiliar territory can be a bit disconcerting to say the least. It can create understood anxieties. And so a few verses later in the parsha we get the solution to this concern. Not once but twice, using very similar language, Moshe tells the Jewish people, “Be of good courage and strength, do not fear… because the Lord your God, He will הולך go/walk with you”. (Deut. 31:6) The same word Lech/Go that is used to describe our unknown journey is used to inform us that we are not alone in it but accompanied by God who comes along with us, looks out for us and steers us in the right direction. And not only that, but even moreso as it says just a couple of verses later, “He will walk before you.” (Deut. 31:8) He will lead the way. Even though we don’t know exactly where we are headed, He is both beside us and ahead of us.
There used to be a bumper sticker that proclaimed, “Let Go and Let God.” And this has been the secret to Jewish continuity against all odds for the past two thousand years. And it is the secret to our personal successes and survivals in our daily lives. We don’t always know where we are going, but despite the difficulties, it does all work out. God is next to us and also ahead of us.
Rosh HaShana is upon us. It is the Day of Judgment for the upcoming year. A day that defines new beginnings, new journeys and new unknowns. This past year was one with more than our share of unknowns. Hopefully this year it will be less so. But whatever may be, let’s not forget Moshe’s words, “Be of good courage and strength, do not fear… because the Lord your God, He will הולך go/walk with you.”
May our journeys be like those of Avraham and Moshe. May they all be meaningful, fruitful, successful and with few bumps in the road. And may we never forget who is at the wheel.
But just believe in me baby and I’ll take you away
From out of this darkness and into the day
From these rivers of headlights, these rivers of rain
From the anger that lives on the streets with these names
‘Cause I’ve run every red light on memory lane
I’ve seen desperation explode into flames
And I don’t wanna see it again
From all of these signs saying “Sorry but we’re closed”
All the way
Down the Telegraph Road
-Mark Knopfler/Dire Straits