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.

1 Comment
  1. Rabbi Peg Kershenbaum

    What a profound insight. I will be sharing this widely in your name. Thank you for the thoughtful interpretation.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest Sermons

Yom Kippur: Hope, Despair And A Shining Sun
Yom Kippur: Hope, Despair And A Shining Sun

Yom Kippur 5783 Like many of the quotes and poems that make their way into use, a poem attributed to an anonymous person in a concentration camp, or in hiding, became somewhat of an urban legend, and has often been taken out of context, as well as not accurately...

Kindness

Kol Nidre, 5783 On Rosh Hashanah, we began our prayers in the hopes of moving God, the Holy Blessed One, from kisei din, the throne or seat of judgment, to kisei rachamim, the throne or seat of compassion. Ten days later, here we are at the eve of Yom Kippur,...

Shema: Listening, Hearing and the Shofar

Rosh Hashanah 5783, Day 2 The word, “Shema.” What do you think of when you hear it? Usually, we think of “The Shema” as the verses we chant or sing from the book of Devarim, Deuteronomy, and in that context, it’s a bold theological statement. It is an idea which goes...

Latest Midrash HaZak

Bo: Telling Our Story, Enhancing our Senses
Bo: Telling Our Story, Enhancing our Senses

Bo: Telling Our Story, Enhancing our Senses Rabbi Sue Live Elwell When we turn to the texts that have accompanied many throughout the days of their lives, we look for directional signs that may be useful to us as we navigate our final days and years. As we age, we...

Emor: Questioning The Status Quo
Emor: Questioning The Status Quo

Emor: Questioning The Status Quo Dr. Betsy Stone I am fascinated by this parsha, with its juxtaposition of HOLY days and UNHOLY people. Emor begins by telling us how a Kohen may be defiled/ritually impure–by visiting a graveyard, shaving parts of their heads or...

Miketz: Preparing For Life’s Journey
Miketz: Preparing For Life’s Journey

Miketz: Preparing for Life's Journey Rabbi Dayle Friedman In Parashat Miketz, we encounter Joseph as a person growing in wisdom. For the third time in his life, he is moved to interpret a pair of dreams. As a youth, Joseph reports two dreams in which he is a center of...

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