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Yizkor – 5771
“The Death of Moses”
September 18, 2010
A tale from our Sages: When, at age 120, Moses realized that the decree
of death had been sealed against him, he drew a small circle around himself,
stood in it, and said, “Master of the Universe, I will not budge from here until
You void that decree.”
He donned sackcloth…and persisted in prayer and supplications before
the Holy One, until heaven and earth – indeed, all things made during the six
days of creation – were shaken, so that they said, “Perhaps God intends to
remake the world!”
What did the Holy One do then? God had it proclaimed at every gate of
every Virmament that Moses’ prayer not be accepted…because the decree
concerning him had been sealed…
Then Moses said, “Master of the Universe, if you will not let me enter the
Land of Israel, allow me to remain alive like the beasts of the Vield…” But God
replied, “Enough. Speak to me no more of this matter.”
When Moses saw his prayer was not heeded, he implored heaven and
earth [and when they refused to intercede for him] he went on to demand the
stars and planets ask God for mercy on his behalf, who also refused.
Moses begged the mountains and the hills and sea and even God’s
ministering angel, until Vinally God said, “If you wish to cross the Jordan, then
Israel will die, for I must execute judgment on them for the Golden Calf. Who
will go to the Promised Land, you or they?”
Moses relented and said, “Let Moses and a thousand like him perish but
let not a Vingernail of one person in Israel be harmed.”
After Moses became reconciled to his dying, the Holy One asked the
angel Metatron to take Moses’ soul. He refused. God asked the angel Gabriel,
who also refused. And after that, the angel Michael declined as well.
God, sorely provoked, asked the evil angel Samael to take Moses’ soul.
The angel confronted Moses, who banished him forthwith. All of the angels
were terriVied of Moses!
Finally, God, the Divine Self, came down from the highest heavens, to
take the soul of Moses. Only when God appeared did Moses appear calm. But
then Moses’ soul, his neshama, spoke up in protest to God and said, “Is there a
2
body in the world more pure than Moses? I love him and I will not depart
from him!”
God said gently, “If you depart Moses, I will take you up to the highest
heaven of heavens and I will set you by me always. Moses’ soul, his neshama,
Vinally agreed to be taken.
In that instant, God kissed Moses and took his soul with that kiss. Even
as God kissed Adam to breathe life into him, God gently kissed out the life of
Moses. And all the hosts of heaven and earth declared, “Let him enter in peace
and rest on his couch.” (Is. 57.2)
Moses may have been our greatest hero in the Torah, but he didn’t want
to die any more than we do. Unlike other faiths that deem their leading
Vigures to be immortal or divine, Moses dies in the Torah, but our Sages say it
was a narrow thing: Either Moses would live and there would be no Jewish
People or Moses would die and our history would unfold.
The irony is this – if Moses didn’t really die, we would be stuck with a
real life Moses, with real life challenges and behaviors, great and not so great.
Because Moses died, we can walk the garden of his life and Vind the blossoms
to behold and to inspire us rather than wondering what nonsense he’s gotten
himself into now, or whether or not he has simply become another cranky old
man.
Our legacies are shaped during our lifetimes, but they become real after
we are gone. The challenges of daily life are such that we lose sight of what
made our beloved dead so memorable, what makes them so worthy of
emulation.
A Chasidic master, R. Uri of Strelisk, once taught:
“None of us serves our generation alone. For example, David continues
to inspire the downcast with his Viery passion, generation after generation.
And Samson’s heroics continue to give courage to the meek ‘til this day.”
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