“Vayelech Moshe” — and Moses went to gather the Jewish people, telling them, “Today I turn 120 years old and I cannot continue to come and go … ”
What an appropriate name for our parsha, the Torah portion preparing us for Moses’ passing: vayelech, “to go.”
We use the term “passed on” to refer to death, but is this truly the appropriate term or are we just passing off our ability to deal with tragedy? Sometimes you hear an individual comforting a mourner with encouragement to move on, but can they?
This past year our community experienced the greatest tragedy to the Jewish people perpetrated on American soil. Eleven souls lost, countless lives shocked and traumatized. A new year has now begun. Is it time to move on?
Moving on means to forget about the past, get beyond it and try to live a brighter future. By contrast, vayelech — “to go” — means to move forward, to take the past and make it a vital part of our upward-moving future.
In business or in life we are presented with challenging moments. The moments themselves can either be catalysts for greater growth and heights or obstacles in the way of progress. The Torah is teaching us that even the passing of Moses is a step forward, another stop and ultimately another springboard for the Jewish people to grow and strive. After a fire, the earth is more fertile than ever before and greater growth can and must happen.
Here in Pittsburgh, we must challenge ourselves to a year of moving forward. The passing of 11 dear community members must motivate us to strengthen the community they lived in. We cannot stand by nor move on; we must move forward. The institutions, buildings and individuals must be living, shining examples of true life and freedom, places where optimism outshines the greatest sadness, where color, peace and G-dly inspiration overcome the deepest recesses of hatred and anger.
The world is constantly changing for the better, but it’s not fully changed yet. The ugly head of anti-Semitism and hatred awoke and we must bring it to its end. We must move forward, finding new ways and manners of uncovering value and meaning in each person and implementing modern ways to bring this recognition to every human on Earth.
Once, the Baal Shem Tov sent his disciples to watch how an innkeeper did his Kaparot, the pre-Yom Kippur ritual where one swings a chicken over their head and donates it to the poor as an atonement for one’s sins.
It was early morning after the last drunk had left the inn when the innkeeper began his ritual. He first took out a book in which he had written all of the sins and imperfect moments of his past year — when he had lost his temper, when he didn’t give correct change and when he didn’t focus properly on his prayer — and began reading.
As he finished reading the book with tear-soaked eyes, he pulled out another book. In this book, he had written G-d’s offenses — the day his cow died, the time an anti-Semitic drunk destroyed his tavern, and the new shoes he couldn’t afford for his children when he had no customers. With tears he finished reading the second book, and turning to heaven he said, “G-d! If you forgive mine I forgive Yours.” Then, wrapping both books in paper, he swung them three times over his head and flung them into the burning coals of his hearth.
The beginning of this week’s Haftorah begins “Shuva Yisroel,” “Return, O Israel, to G-d.” But we demand “Shuva Hashem,” “G-d, return to us! You said that Your absence would be momentary, ‘a small moment.’ Moments have a limit on Earth and You spoke in the language of man. The massacre at the Tree of Life building was a moment. A moment that is lasting way too long for many members in our community. The time has come for You Yourself to comfort them and all Israel, to return to your people, revealed here on Earth, where peace, safety and Your presence will be all that matters.”
It’s time to move forward together, stronger together!
L’shana Tova. pjc
Rabbi Elchonon Friedman is the rabbi at Bnei Emunoh Chabad-Greenfield. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.