This parshah opens with Moses pleading with G-d to be let into the Holy Land. Standing on a mountain overlooking Israel, he yearns to walk on its holy soil. Our Sages tell us that he prayed 515 individual prayers to be allowed in. Moses saw this as a culmination of his life’s mission -̶ to bring the Jews into the Promised Land. He saw it as a connection to our forefathers who walked the length and breadth of the land. He saw it as the path to finding his spiritual fulfillment.
G-d’s answer was an unequivocal, “No.” He tells Moses, “It is enough for you. You’ve had enough in your life. Don’t talk to me anymore about this topic. Conversation closed.” The answer seems to be not only emphatic but harsh as well. We understand that not every prayer gets answered affirmatively, but why the callousness?
The Midrash enlightens us that this was criticism for an event that occurred decades previously. At the rebellion of Korach, Korach declared, “Why are you and Aaron better than us? Did we not all hear G-d’s voice speaking to us on Mt. Sinai? Why can I not also be a Cohen like Aaron is?”
Moses responded at that time, “It is enough for you. You have already been elevated among the rest of the nation as a Levi to offer service in the Tabernacle. Do you also need to be a Cohen as well?!”
Now, G-d was rebuking Moses for his words then. There can be no stopping growth. If someone yearns for a higher spiritual stature, it is painful to tell them, “Be satisfied with what you have accomplished until now.” Or “Be happy that you have more than others.” How that growth is actualized may have to be directed; one’s ideas of how to be spiritual and how to become more spiritual may be mistaken. To discount that feeling though, to dismiss one as “Having done enough,” is wrong.
Of course, it is helpful, recommended and imperative even, for one to reflect on previous growth and feel joy and satisfaction in that. But we are at our root a soul, and a soul has infinite potential. When one is in touch with their spirit, there is both joy and contentment, but also the desire to move higher, to transcend and to perfect.
The first phrase of the second paragraph of the Shema that we recite twice daily is, “And it will come to pass if you will listen well.” The verb “to listen” is repeated. The medieval commentator, Rashi, explains as follows. “If you listen to the old, you will listen to the new.” What does that mean?
As we get older, we are apt to settle into our ways. Patterns of behavior, attitudes on life, a jaded view of society, personality traits that don’t serve us well ̶ all of these may become so ingrained, so familiar, that we feel they cannot be changed. “I’ve always been late for the past 60 years. I can’t possibly change now.” “I can’t control my anger. It’s just a part of who I am.” There are many things we can be resigned to about ourselves.
If you think these thoughts, it is a sign that you haven’t listened well. You are listening to the body. When you are quiet, and listen carefully, you will pick up on the voice of the soul. The soul, which hums eternally with life and hope. The soul, which is in a never-ending dance of the ecstasy of expression. The soul that patiently urges us forward. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear past the old, worn voice of the body and uncover the new and refreshing voice of your soul.
Whether it’s of those around us, or ourselves, we must allow for the natural process of growth to transpire. JN
Rabbi Sholom Twerski is the assistant rabbi of Beth Joseph Congregation and the rabbinic administrator at the Greater Phoenix Vaad HaKashruth.