As the festive month of Tishrei and the holiday of Sukkot come to a close, Jews around the world prepare to celebrate the completion of the Torah and beginning her anew. In his introduction to Parshat Breishit, Rav Binyamin Lau makes an interesting observation on the efficacy of change at this powerful time of renewal:
שוב גוללים את התורה לתחילתה ושוב מתחילים מבראשית את קריאת התורה. מילותיה של התורה קבועות ורק אנו משתנים ומוצאים בכל שנה את הטעם המיוחד של אותם פסוקים עתיקים.
We’re once again rolling the Torah to its beginning, and once again beginning [the cycle of] Kriat haTorah from Breishit. The words of the Torah are set- only we change and find new, unique interpretations of those same, ancient verses. (בראשית עמ’ 19, אתנחתא)
Furthermore, Simchat Torah is an amazing time for reflection on the future. Just as we can see how we’ve changed based on our renewed understanding of the Torah, we can also look into the Torah now for guidance for the future. With 333 days remaining for the year 5775, there’s no time like the present to reflect on the messages of the the coming days’ readings of Parshiot V’zot Habracha and Bereshit.
V’zot Habracha, which primarily contains Moshe’s final blessings to the Jewish nation, ends with his death in the Plains of Moav. Immediately before his passing, Moshe ascends Har Nevo and is given a glimpse of Eretz Yisrael, the Promised Land that he led the nation to, but would never enter himself, and, without any fanfare:
וַיָּמָת שָׁם מֹשֶׁה עֶבֶד-ה’
And Moshe, the servant of G-d, died there. (דברים לד:ה)
This short passuk, which anti-climactically tells of Moshe’s death, emphasizes two points: (1) that Moshe died there, on Har Nevo on the Plains of Moav; and (2) At his time of death, Moshe was a servant of G-d, the first time and only time he is ever called this in the Torah.
I believe that the two central points here illustrate the important priorities of Moshe’s life, and, by extension, all of ours as well. Moshe Rabeinu was an extraordinary leader and an even more unique person, to say the least. The remainder of the Torah discusses how no leader or prophet could possibly live up to the high standard set by the Jews’ first superior. However, despite all of the miracles, all of “פנים אל פנים” conversations with G-d, he was not truly an “עבד השם” until he saw Eretz Yisrael. Only once he was there, at the banks of the Jordan River, did our greatest prophet fulfill the purpose of his life and pass away.
If our nation’s greatest leader, who initiated breathtaking miracles and spoke face-to-face with G-d, did not fulfill the purpose of his life until he entered Eretz Yisrael, if he was not a true עבד השם until he stood on the banks of the Jordan River facing our promised inheritance, then this is only so much more true for us. The message of the passuk of Moshe’s death is extremely relevant to us- no matter what high levels of spirituality we are able to reach in our lives, no matter how much Torah we learn, and no matter how many we inspire and lead, we cannot truly call ourselves if we do not aim to live in Israel (for how could we say we are on a higher level than Moshe, who was not an עבד השם until he looked out onto Eretz Yisrael?!).
As we begin the new year and begin a new cycle of Torah readings, it behooves us to rethink our priorities and reconsider our futures. As members of the chosen nation, we can accomplish anything if we put our minds to it, no matter where we are. But these achievements are worthless if we are not living where we belong, and each and every one of us must do our best to ensure that we move our lives over to the land that Moshe Rabeinu died trying to enter, whether now or later, to ensure that we too can say “וימת שם,” at least we fufliflled our life’s purpose by living there at the end of our life.
On Shabbat, as we read of the creation of the world in Parshat Bereshit, many will recall the first Rashi of the Torah:
אמר רבי יצחק: לא היה צריך להתחיל [את] התורה אלא (שמות יב ב) מהחודש הזה לכם, שהיא מצווה ראשונה שנצטוו [בה] ישראל, ומה טעם פתח בבראשית, משום (תהילים קיא ו) כוח מעשיו הגיד לעמו לתת להם נחלת גויים, שאם יאמרו אומות העולם לישראל לסטים אתם, שכבשתם ארצות שבעה גויים, הם אומרים להם כל הארץ של הקב”ה היא, הוא בראה ונתנה לאשר ישר בעיניו, ברצונו נתנה להם וברצונו נטלה מהם ונתנה לנו.
R’ Yitzchak said: There was no need to begin the Torah until “Hachodesh Hazeh” (Shemot 12:2), which is the first mitzva that was commanded to the Jewish People. So why did the Torah start with Bereshit? Because of “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations.” (Tehilim 111:6). If the nations of the world will ever say to Israel ‘you are robbers, that you conquered by force the lands of the seven native nations,’ Israel can reply ‘G-d owns the entire world, He created it and He can give it to whoever He’d like- He gave it to them (the Canaanites) when he wanted to, and when he was ready, He took it from them and gave it to us.’ (רש”י, בראשית א:א)
Here, we are being presented with another reason for why we must make living in Eretz Yisrael a priority, and why we must make the difficult move there. G-d created the world, and gave us the Land of Israel. Now, many millennia later, the land is full of foreigners, who spread words of hate against the Jews and attempt to drive us out of the one small piece of the world we can call our own, our only safe haven. It is the ultimate embarrassment to us and to our Creator, that these members of other religions, who serve false gods and untrue faiths, are sitting on the land that Moshe Rabeinu wrote a whole sefer begging Hashem to let him enter, because we are not living there yet. We must make it a priority to live in Eretz Yisrael, if not for our own sakes, then at least to ensure that future generations, who may feel differently, will still have a country to call their home. Furthermore, our living in Eretz Yisrael itself is a kiddush Hashem on the highest level, for the Jews in Israel are living proof of exactly what Rashi writes in Breishit- that He created the world, and we are His chosen nation.
So, we can see from the Torah’s conclusion and its beginning that Eretz Yisrael must become and remain a priority in our lives. With Hashem’s help, this year and this new cycle of Torah reading will be one of personal redemption, moving to the Holy Land where we belong, and national redemption, with the coming of our long awaited Mashiach. Chag Sameach to everyone.