I hope that you had a meaningful Rosh Hashana and that you are all doing well.
מי יחיה ומי ימות מי בקצו ומי לא בקצו; “Who will live and who will die? Who will die at the predestined time and who before that time?”
These words of the uNetaneh Tokef prayer – recited both this past week on Rosh Hashana and bez”h next week on Yom Kippur – remind us of our vulnerability and of the possibility that one may leave this world with unfinished business. Yet this Shabbos – which is both Shabbat Shuva and September 11th – we will read about how Moshe lived 120 years to the day, indicating that G-d completes the years of the righteous (see Rashi to Devarim 31:1 and TB Sotah 13b).
This is striking, as if there was anyone whose business may be considered unfinished it was Moshe. Moshe had arrived in Egypt to redeem the Jewish people and bring them to the land of Israel, to bring about the fulfillment of the promise of the ages that Eretz Yisrael would be our home. But Moshe did not make it there. We know how Moshe pleaded with G-d to be able to bring us there, but it was all to no avail. Can we really say that Moshe’s life – that ended before he reached his life’s goal – was not cut short?
לא עליך המלאכה לגמור ולא אתה בן חורין להבטל ממנה. “It is not your responsibility to finish the job, nor may you neglect it (Avot 2:21).” Moshe may have a had an unfulfilled dream for himself and Klal Yisrael, but he continued to work until his last day towards its fulfillment. Even on that last day, Moshe continued to progress to towards that goal, as once he recognized that he would not finish the job himself he made sure to identify and hand off the Jewish people to their next leader, Yehoshua, who would indeed bring us to Eretz Yisrael (Bamidbar 27:12-16; Devarim 31:14).
That is the true meaning of a complete life, not one that reaches its every goal but one that continues the march towards that goal. Each of us is part of Netzach Yisrael, the eternal Jewish people. There is a continuum to our story. Our job is not to complete the process of redemption ourselves but to do our part within that continuum – ambitiously and with determination – to move ourselves and those around us closer to it, and to help create the framework to pass the baton to others to continue that march forward. The remaining distance to the goal should not frustrate us; it should instead frame our strategy and approach as we plan for the long game.
This Shabbos, when we read about Moshe’s perfectly complete life, marks twenty years to the day after the lives of so many were tragically interrupted. This is a day when we lost thousands of lives and much of our innocence. Can we even remember the trusting world we used to live in where we did not need to be body-scanned before getting on an airplane? The attacks were meant to accomplish the latter more than the former. Those terrorists – like all terrorists – know that they cannot kill all their enemies, and they therefore do not even seek to do so. But they also know that they can profoundly affect the mood and trajectory of a country and of the world, starting a process that would continue on its own.
But the terrorists also began another process, awakening a strong spirit of determination to defend our freedom and build positive values. And while that process suffered a significant setback last month in Afghanistan, in the season of Teshuva – which is typically characterized by “two steps forward and one step back” – we know that setbacks are not definitive.
And we should not underestimate our role – as individuals and as Klal Yisrael – in setting the forward direction of society. Our Torat Chaim has always led the way in valuing life, and our Torat Chessed raised the world’s bar of giving. Those values are built and nurtured at the core by the connection to G-d, faith, and Torah within Klal Yisrael. And it is building that connection that is the primary focus of our work at the Orthodox Union. That is not a parochial effort; it is one that can and will strengthen the process and trajectory that will ultimately change the world. Not today or tomorrow. But it is not our task to finish the job, just to continue it and never neglect it.
If you have a few minutes, please follow this link for an important idea about Teshuva from our Parsha: https://allparsha.org/p/97657
Have a wonderful Shabbos and a Gmar Chatima Tova.