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Vayeilech-Yom Kippur 5777-2016

“Patience Tempered With Love”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Vayeilech, we once again encounter Moses, on the last day of his life, bidding farewell to his beloved people. He urges the people to place their trust in G-d, and assures them that, under their new leader Joshua, they will triumph over their enemies as they had with him as their leader.

In Deuteronomy 31:14, G-d tells Moses that his days are numbered and that he will soon pass from this world, וַיֹּאמֶר השׁם אֶל מֹשֶׁה, הֵן קָרְבוּ יָמֶיךָ לָמוּת, קְרָא אֶת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וְהִתְיַצְּבוּ בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַאֲצַוֶּנּוּ, וַיֵּלֶךְ מֹשֶׁה וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, The L-rd spoke to Moses, “Behold, your days are drawing near to die; summon Joshua, and both of you shall stand in the Tent of Meeting, and I shall instruct him.” So Moses and Joshua went and stood in the Tent of Meeting.

This moment was truly challenging for Moses. Not only would he soon die, but also, there was no longer any possibility that he would pass on the mantle of leadership to one of his own sons. On the other hand, Joshua could surely be considered his own spiritual offspring. After all, the Talmud states (Sanhedrin 19b), that one who teaches his friend’s child Torah is considered as if he actually fathered that child. Moses could certainly rejoice knowing that the new leader of Israel would be his beloved spiritual heir, Joshua, who had been his longtime aide and disciple.

Rabbi Nissen Telushkin,  in his erudite book of Torah commentary entitled Sefer HaTorah V’Ha’Ohlam, cites the Midrash Sifre. The Midrash describes a piercing message that Moses imparted to Joshua before his death.

Says the Midrash:

At that moment, Moses gathered his strength in order to reassure Joshua, in front of all the people of Israel. As the verse states (Deuteronomy 31:7), Moses called to Joshua and said to him before all the people of Israel, חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ, ‘Be strong and courageous. Behold all the people that I am giving over to you [the People of Israel], they are like young and immature goats. Don’t pay much attention to what they do. Even their Master [G-d] did not pay much attention. As it says, Hosea 11:1, כִּי נַעַר יִשְׂרָאֵל, וָאֹהֲבֵהוּ, when Israel was a child, then I loved him.’

The Midrash demonstrates Moses’ unbridled love for Israel, especially in light of his difficult relationship with the people.

Moses is now 120 years old. For 40 years he has led G-d’s flock, with little נַחַת–pleasure or satisfaction, to show for all his efforts. From the moment that he, as a prince, left the royal palace of Pharaoh and went out to help his brethren, he was attacked, demeaned and belittled. Because of the wicked Israelites who reported to Pharaoh that Moses had killed an Egyptian, Moses was forced to flee to Midian, where he was to remain for many years.

Moses faced continuous strife and crisis with the Children of Israel, and constant complaints–no water, not enough food, not enough meat, fear that the enemies would attack Israel.

From his youth, to his last breath, Moses devoted his entire life in the service of the people. He redeemed them from the misery of slavery, creating a nation exalted with the Torah that it received at Sinai. Yet, most of his life he was reviled by the people, and harassed by their constant complaints. With unbridled audacity they call out to Moses, Exodus 5:21, “May G-d look upon you [Moses] and judge, you have made us abhorrent in the eyes of Pharaoh.” Numbers 16:13: “Is it not enough that you [Moses] have brought us up from the land flowing with milk and honey, to cause us to die in the Wilderness?!”

Despite the frequent abuse to which Moses was subjected by the people, when the time comes for Moses to depart, he draws Joshua close to him, advising him to treat the people gently. “They are like young goats, immature children, you must treat them with care, with love, as you would an infant.”

Moses shares with Joshua his extensive insights regarding leading the Israelites, cautioning him, that if he does not have sufficient patience, he will never succeed as a leader.

Patience, explains Moses, means being prepared to suffer indignity and personal attacks, just as he had during much of his own lifetime. Patience and understanding cannot be affected or artificial, contrived or controlled. Patience must be genuine, warm and loving. Tolerance must be a result of love, for without genuine warmth and love, the leadership will never be accepted or effective.

Rabbi Telushkin writes about a friend of his in Minsk, Lithuania, a Lubavitcher Chasid, who used to fast frequently. Rabbi Telushkin once asked his friend why he was fasting on a particular day. The Chasid said that he saw one of the Jews from their synagogue doing something improper. When he rebuked him, the Jew would not accept his rebuke. The Chasid realized that it must have been his own fault, since the Talmud states that those who give rebuke properly with fear of Heaven in their hearts, their words are never rejected.

Moses tells Joshua that G-d too looks away from the sins of Israel, who are referred to in scripture (Deuteronomy 14:1), as G-d’s children, and because of His love for them, He is prepared to suffer.

Rabbi Meir, in Tractate Sanhedrin 46a, says that when a person is in pain, the Divine Presence says, “My head hurts, My hand hurts, because I too am suffering with my people.” When Israel is exiled, the Divine Presence is exiled as well (Talmud Megillah 29a). That is what is meant in the verse, כִּי נַעַר יִשְׂרָאֵל, וָאֹהֲבֵהוּ, “They are but children, and I love them.”

The message of tolerance and patience that Moses conveyed to Joshua was not an original message. It was a lesson that Moses himself had learned directly from G-d Al-mighty, who is always tolerant and long-suffering of His people, Israel. Moses can even tell Joshua not to pay much attention to the sins and trespasses of Israel, because G-d Himself also looks the other way!

How fortunate are we, the People of Israel, to have a G-d who is long-suffering and forgiving, and prepared to look the other way.

Although it is encouraging to hear this message on the eve of Yom Kippur, we must not take advantage of the Al-mighty’s extraordinary love and mercy. We need to properly earn G-d’s forgiveness, by strengthening our faith and improving our actions, and by pouring out our hearts with sincere love in prayer before our ever-forgiving G-d.

May you be blessed.

Wishing you a שָׁנָה טוֹבָה–Shanah Tovah and a גְמַר חַתִימָה טוֹבָה–G’mar Chatimah Tovah, a very Happy and Healthy New Year. May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life, and may all our prayers be answered favorably.

The Fast of Gedaliah will be observed on Wednesday, October 5th, 2016 from dawn until nightfall.

The New Year holiday is immediately followed on Friday night, and Saturday, October 7th and 8th, by Shabbat Shuva.

Yom Kippur will be observed this year on Tuesday evening, October 11th through nightfall on Wednesday, October 12th, 2016. Have a most meaningful fast.

The first days of Sukkot will be observed this year on Sunday evening and all day Monday and Tuesday, October 16th, 17th and 18th, 2016. The intermediary days (Chol HaMoed) are observed through Sunday, October 23rd. On Sunday evening, the festival of Shemini Atzeret commences, and is celebrated on Monday, October 24th. The final day of the festival, Simchat Torah, begins on Monday evening, October 24th and continues through Tuesday, October 25th.