Moses was raised as a prince in the most powerful nation in the world, Egypt. He had enough power, authority, wealth, comfort and security for the rest of his life if he wanted. Instead, he gave up everything he had for one thing. That was to take a group of Hebrew slaves to freedom in a far away land that no one he knew had even seen.
The task was impossible and absurd. He took it on because it was the right thing. And he didn’t make it. He dies before bringing them into the land. We know they made it in successfully, but he only had hope and faith that they would.
He may have felt like he was going to die a failure. That is why God told him to go to the top of the mountain, and look West, North, South and East.
Just looking in two directions would have shown Moses the entire Land of Israel. Why did God have in look in all directins? Moses knew how far was left to go, but he needed to appreciate how far he had come and how far he had brought the people. His life mattered. The people never could have been where they were without him.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s final words were inspired by Moses. He was assassinated the next day.
On April 3rd, 1968, he said,
“Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
The last line is a quote from the Battle Hymn of the Republic which was written in November 1861, when it was far from clear that the battle to stop slavery would be won. It celebrates the struggle for justice combined with honest self reflection that would ultimately bring real freedom to everyone.
As a people we have to remember how far we have come, and how much we have contributed and continue to contribute to the world, in often impossible odds.
We hear about the PEW report on assimilation, and the war in Gaza, antisemitism in Europe, and in the media, even locally, and we start to despair.
We lose perspective. Things are scary, but nowhere near how bad things have been in the past.
We need to go on top of the mountain and look in each direction.
In the past, antisemitic acts were started by the government. Now, most governments protect us, or at least try.
We were banned or faced quotas from so many different institutions and professions. We are now accepted pretty much everywhere.
We can express our Judaism freely in every land that is actually free. Where we can’t do that, it is usually bad for everyone.
We still work to make the world better for everyone, whether they acknowledge it or not, whether they even hate us.
When Naftali Herz Imber wrote Hatikvah in 1877, the phrase lihiyot am chofshi beartzeinu, to be a free people in our own land, was just a line written on a piece of paper in a Russian tavern. Now it is a reality.
We may not have achieved all our goals of peace and security, but we have come so far. Just look around.
Painting: copyright Aaron Bergman