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07/28/2023 09:51:50 AM


Perhaps the hardest lesson for any child to learn is that parental decisions are sometimes final, whether or not one agrees with their parent’s logic. With infuriating consistency, no means no, no matter how much a child may plead, pucker out a lower lip, or employ the most adorable, irresistible pair of puppy dog eyes. Asking again five minutes later is unlikely to result in a different answer. Pushing back and arguing might even get one invited to leave the room for a much-needed time out.

This week’s Torah portion, Va-et’chanan, opens with Moses recounting how he pleaded with the Eternal to reverse the decision not to allow him to enter the Promised Land. God, in turn, lost patience with Moses, saying, “Enough! Never speak to me of this matter again!” Instead of being sent up to his room, Moses was then sent up to the summit of Mount Pisgah, from which he could see the Promised Land. Ostensibly, this little time out gave him time to come to terms with the fact that he would never personally set foot in the land that God had promised. In his retelling of this scene, Moses makes sure to let the Israelites know that, while he is suffering this punishment, it was all their fault. As he prepares to pass on the reins of leadership, Moses does what so many of us do: first, he whines and pleads and, when this fails, he assigns blame to someone else.

If we stop our reflection there, Moses’s message at the start of this parsha seems whiny and passive aggressive: I’m getting punished, but it was all your fault. Here’s what you need to know as you enter the Promised Land. Good luck to you. Wish I could join you, but… well, you know what you did. Thanks for nothing. 

Looking a bit more closely at his words, however, something else emerges: a “blink and you miss it” sprinkling of gratitude. While Moses is less than gracious in accepting his fate, he does not hold back in his praise of the Eternal. In fact, he begins his plea with a nod to all that he has already been allowed to witness and experience: “O Eternal God, You who let Your servant see the first works of your greatness and Your mighty hand, You whose powerful deeds no god in heaven or on earth can equal!” Even amid self-pity and blame, Moses must acknowledge all that has been given to him.

In life, the Universe often tells us NO. Do all people across the globe have equal rights? NO. Is every baby born into the world wanted, cared for, and raised in safety and love? NO. Can I retire whenever I feel like it? NO. Can I go outside on a summer’s afternoon and breathe clean air without a tinge of smoke or oppressive humidity? NO. Can I pick up some acrylics and instantly paint like Vermeer? No?? Even if I say pleeeeeeeeeease?

Our tradition calls for balance. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to uproot. If we focus on all those things that we can’t obtain, no matter how badly we want them, we might find ourselves stuck at the beginning of this parsha. I asked. God said no. It’s all somebody else’s fault. But Va-et’chanan quickly moves beyond this pleading, with Moses modeling acceptance and the strength to move on and do what is necessary for the good of others. Repeatedly in the verses that follow, Moses reminds the people of all that they have been blessed with, seeming to acknowledge that, when we are stuck in a place of self-pity and blame, it is impossible to move forward. When we look back and around us and practice gratitude, however, we might just find reserves of strength we never knew we had and find ourselves empowered to keep going. There is a time to whine and a time to show gratitude. Only when we balance out this scale can we find equilibrium and the solid footing to move forward.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rebecca Abbate

Thu, December 7 2023 24 Kislev 5784