Robin Williams’ untimely passing touched the hearts of many of us. He touched our hearts because we had a personal connection. His gifts of comedy and acting his brilliant artistry found a way into each of us. And now we lament his passing on a personal level.
My father died about the time that Debbie Friedman passed away. Debbie was an iconic figure. Her passing created a tragic sense of personal loss in the Jewish community. And as deeply as I cared for Debbie, I was more focused on the loss of my dad. It was then that I noticed how we routinely find some losses to deeply affect us and others devolve from a human connection to a mere statistic.
This approach to death is a coping mechanism; If each death affected us deeply, we would be overwhelmed by the emotions and paralyzed. The mind and heart do what they need to do in order for us to move on about our lives. But beneath this, for those who are lost, what do they leave behind?
This is the question I find myself asking about Moses in the Torah portion Eikev. Moses is the iconic humble servant. And yet, in this portion, Moses repeats several times that it was because of what he did that saved the people from oblivion. Moses’ humility moves to the background as the need to be relevant takes over.
Might Moses be scared? He is the last of his generation, the generation that was to completely perish before the people would enter the Promised Land. Might Moses be scared that he would fade into oblivion, and be a simple footnote to history? The extraordinary experiences of creating a nation over the past 40 years might be obscured while the people are so focused on moving forward into the promise that the future holds.
History and our entire tradition holds Moses up as the great leader and teacher. We still recall Moshe Rabeinu with awe as we retell the stories of his life inextricably bound to the unfolding of our people’s destiny. But Moses did not know that at the time. In this, his second discourse, Moses knows the end is drawing near. In the remaining time left to him, Moses struggles to share the highlights of forging of a rag-tag group of slaves into B’nei Israel, about to enter and conquer the Land. He can hope that his entire life’s work means something to those he has shepherded. But it is only his hope that they will remember him, embraced his teachings and teach the generations to come; that they will become the people who God has offered as possible. Yes Moses, we did hear and we did learn and we are still struggling to achieve the vision set before us.
For our elders, this might explain the strident moments in your conversations with your children. For our children, this might offer insight into the motivations of your parents. Knowing this might help us to better understand the personal connection between parent and child. We will feel the loss when our parents are gone. But we can share and appreciate the wisdom of our elders now, while they are present in our lives.