Through Moses’ Eyes

younger eyes, older eyes


In this week’s Torah reading, Vayelech, “he–meaning Moses–went” and spoke to the Israelites. He told them, “I am now one hundred and twenty years old, I can no longer be active (literally, ‘come and go.’)” There are many ways to interpret this idea of not being able to “come and go,” and our sages came up with a few. Many link this statement with the next verse, “And, the Lord has said to me, “You shall not go across the Jordan (River),” but to them, Moses’ statement doesn’t suggest a physical disability, but the fact that he lacks Divine permission to cross the river and to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land. It could also be that he was no longer able to lead the people once they’re in the land, because a new type of leader was needed.

When we translate lo oo-chal od la-tzeyt v’la-vo as “no longer able to be active,” it sounds as if Moses is saying, “Hey, I’m 120! I can’t do what I used to do.” And he may be right, but when we juxtapose this with almost the concluding verse of the Torah, “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eyes were undimmed and his strength had not let him,” we have the stuff that keeps rabbis up at night.

This is a Kushia! It’s a contradiction, isn’t it? Or, “Houston, we have a problem!” How can the Torah, the biblical narrator, tell us that Moses at 120 was like an 80-year old, or a 20-something, if Moses himself said otherwise?

How do we reconcile this? Well, the Talmud, in tractate Sotah, has a thought. The Mishna asks, “And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo,” so how could he have been physically restricted from “coming and going”? Another teaching, called a baraita, comes in to say, “There were twelve steps there to ascend the mountain, upon which Moses was to be buried, and Moses stepped over them all in one step, also indicating that he was at full physical strength.”

Now that I’ve shown you an example of how the Talmudic mind works, here’s how my mind works. To me, the contradiction of these two verses is resolved by looking at them through the lens of how we see ourselves as opposed to how others see us.

If we think back to parashat Shelach Lecha, where the spies came back with a report that the men in Canaan were so large, “we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” (Num. 14:33) Certainly these spies had no idea what the people of the land actually thought of them!

Moses, at 120, saw himself as physically diminished, but God–or the biblical Author or author, sees him as not showing visible signs of aging; his skin wasn’t wrinkled and dry, his eyes weren’t clouded with cataracts, and others didn’t think he looked 120.

Feeling diminished in intellect, in ability, in talent… happens to us at all ages, but it’s important to learn to see ourselves as others do, as capable, intelligent, strong people who have a contribution to make to the world, and as Moses didn’t stop until the last moment, we have the ability to continue as well. My friend and colleague Pastor Dan Quagliata commented, “I continue to learn so much from those who perceive their work is “finished.” We’re never done and always have something to offer.

May each of us be blessed to continually see what we have to offer, and to encourage others to see the potential in themselves.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Latest Sermons

Shoftim: Can Destruction be Just?
Shoftim: Can Destruction be Just?

Photo: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. The spotted lantern fly has arrived in our area, and we’re being advised to squash them if we see them. This bug has no natural...

VaEtchanan: Until His Final Breath
VaEtchanan: Until His Final Breath

Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/maltin75/6278446183 “Observe God’s laws and commandments, which I enjoin upon you this day, that it may go well with you and your children after you, and that you may long remain in the land that the LORD your God is assigning to you...

Parshat Pinchas: Looking For the Good
Parshat Pinchas: Looking For the Good

Photo: COSV from Wikimedia Commons. Women Gathering Wood, South Sudan My friend Sylvia (who says I’m her favorite female rabbi) is almost 98–may she live and be well–and is often troubled by the harsher judgments and more problematic passages in the Torah. And rightly...

Latest Midrash HaZak

Ekev: Standing on their Shoulders
Ekev: Standing on their Shoulders

  Credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Buff_Bill's_Circus Parashat Ekev Rabbi Arnie Samlan Ekev, the third reading in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), is a continuation of Moses’ farewell address to the Israelite nation poised to enter the Promised Land....

VaEtchanan: Rav Lach, It Is Enough For You
VaEtchanan: Rav Lach, It Is Enough For You

Photo by Rabbi Susan Elkodsi Va’Etchanan: Rav Lach, It is enough for you Rabbi Janet Madden, Ph.D Parshat Va’Etchanan opens with Moshe’s recounting to the new generation of Israelites that he pleaded with the Holy One to allow him to enter the Land of Israel. He...

Massei: The Journals of the Journeys
Massei: The Journals of the Journeys

Parashat Massei: The Journal of the Journeys Rabbi Ron Isaacs In 1960 I spent the summer at Camp Ramah in Canada. Advertised as a Hebrew-speaking camp, it was my first summer away from home. I decided to document my 8-week summer by keeping a diary which I still have...

Latest Personal Blogs

Blessing My Bended Knees-A Poem
Blessing My Bended Knees-A Poem

This past week, I participated in a Ritualwell class with Alden Solovy on "Writing From One Word of Torah." I distilled 3 stream-of-consciousness prompts on the word "Baruch/Berekh," the root of which can mean "blessing' and "knee, into this poem. Blessing my bended...

The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives
The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives

Photo: publicdomainpictures.net The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives An email from My Jewish Learning about “A Woman of Valor” prompted me to pivot the next evening’s planned adult learning session to looking at these 22 verses from Mishlei, the Book of Proverbs. These verses...

Live Long and Prosper?
Live Long and Prosper?

By Oklahoma Heritage Association, Gaylord-Pickens Museum - Author, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25656727 Live Long and Prosper? January 5, 2022 began the third year of the seven and a half-year cycle of Daf Yomi, the practice of...

Pin It on Pinterest