The End and the Continuity

Today I am 120 years old. I can no longer go or come, and the Lord said to me, ‘You shall not cross this Jordan.’

Moses was always honest with his people. And on the last day of his life he tells the Children of Israel that he cannot go on. He is stepping down. No, he is not ill or infirm. But his leadership is over because that is the will of G-d. His student and apprentice Joshua will take over.

And so, Moses embarked on his last walk through the camps of Israel, now stationed at the shore of the Jordan River. He said goodbye to his Levite tribe — both the priests and the others. He met all the tribes, both the prominent and the little people. It was his way of showing respect for the flock he had led for 40 years — sort of like a friend saying goodbye.

Moses Ben Nachman, known by his Hebrew acronym Ramban, says Moses tried to soften the blow of his departure. He told the Jews that he was old and of no use to the people. He says G-d had commanded him to remain in the desert, urging the people not to be afraid; They will continue to receive divine protection in the Land of Canaan.

The message was not easy to accept. Here was the prophet who took the Israelites out of Egypt, looking more imposing than ever despite his age. Why, at this critical juncture, would he walk away?

Then G-d made a miracle. The Children of Israel could sense something was different. Although Moses was physically fit, the Talmud said his “fountains of wisdom” appeared to have been blocked. It was not the same Moses.

Very few leaders ever choose to walk away. Regardless of their condition they hang on. King Saul pursued David virtually to his dying day although the monarch knew that the young shepherd had been selected by G-d to inherit the throne. Jerobaum could not accept that his reign would end and established a rival kingdom with false gods and prophets.

Sometimes a leader seeks to resign but is unable to muster the will. Nearly 49 years ago, Golda Meir was prime minister, the first woman to head the State of Israel. She was a leader from childhood, running the family store at age eight during her mother’s absence. By 17, the high school graduate promoted Zionism around the U.S. city of Milwaukee. She arrived with her husband in Palestine in 1921 and joined a kibbutz. She rose rapidly up the career ladder and in 1938 was appointed an observer at the Evian Conference, meant to address the Jews who tried to flee Hitler’s Germany. She watched as the Western democracies refused to help.

“There is only one thing I hope to see before I die and that is that my people should not need expressions of sympathy anymore,” she told a news conference at Evian.

In mid-1973, Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan were pressured by the United States to agree to a campaign by the superpowers to bring peace to the Middle East. U.S. National Security Council Adviser Henry Kissinger, later secretary of state, presented a plan in which the Arabs would attack Israel in a limited war, declare victory and then begin peace talks.

As the weeks went by, Meir understood that the Arabs, particularly Soviet-supplied Egypt and Syria, were preparing for a full-scale war with a launch date on the Jewish fast of Yom Kippur. According to the 1978 book by Hai Doron, “The Four-fold Knot,” quashed by the Israeli regime, Meir wanted to quit rather than watch as Israel would be stormed from at least two fronts. The Labor Party leadership, promised U.S. funding, refused to accept her resignation.

On Oct. 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria rammed through poorly-manned Israeli lines along the Suez Canal and Golan Heights. The estimate of Israeli casualties in this so-called staged war was between 300 and 500. By the end of the 19-day war, nearly 3,000 Israelis were dead.

Meir and Dayan, despite being cleared by a state commission, were forced to resign. The tens of thousands of demobilized soldiers had refused to accept that only the army was responsible for the bloodiest war in Israel’s brief history. “It is beyond my strength to continue carrying this burden,” Meir said.

Five years after the war, Meir died of lymphatic cancer. She was 80 years old.

Perhaps Golda was quoting Moses. He told the Children of Israel that he had come to the end and could no longer live without a miracle from G-d. He would be too old to lead or even cross the Jordan. Ovadia Ben Jacob Sforno, the 15th Century Italian sage, adds that Moses told the people not to mourn his death. My death will clear the way for your entry to the promised land. he said. G-d will lead you and His leadership will be better than mine. Joshua might not be a leader now, but G-d will ensure that he is.

It is no coincidence that Moses’ last address comes on the eve of Yom Kippur, when we pray for ourselves and each other. His departure marks a sea change in Jewish history. The great prophet is gone but the Children of Israel will rise to greater heights than ever. The conquest of Canaan will take seven years, the establishment of a homeland another seven. The people will rise and fall depending on their faith in G-d. But the drive toward a divine-based kingdom, based on justice and mercy, would continue. The naysayers would not prevail as long as the people maintain their courage. Even in his last moments, Moses never forgets that.

Be strong and courageous! Neither fear, nor be dismayed of them, for the Lord, your God He is the One Who goes with you. He will neither fail you, nor forsake you.

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
Related Topics
Related Posts