Haazinu, Deuteronomy 32:1-52
This week, we read from Parashat Haazinu. In it, Moses speaks words of poetry, a beautiful poem highlighting his last words to the children of Israel. After Moses finishes speaking, God says to him:
“Ascend these heights of Abarim to Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab facing Jericho, and view the land of Canaan that I am giving the Israelites as their holding. You shall die on the mountain that you are about to ascend, and shall be gathered to your kin.” (Deuteronomy 32:49-50)
Moses’ death has been determined as punishment for his lack of faith in God; he will not be the one to lead the people into the Promised Land. His pending death is certain; God told him the time and place — when and where it will occur. There will be no surprises. Knowing that certainly makes Moses unique among us mortals who do not have such information at our fingertips.
In the Talmud (Shabbat 153a) it says, “What does Rabbi Eliezer mean when he says, ‘Repent one day before your death.’ How can one know when that day comes? Since no person can know this, one must repent every day of one’s life.”
So we ask: if Moses knew the “day of his death,” did he make teshuva (repentance) before he died? What would we have done if we had known with such startling clarity what lay before us?
During this season, we remember that our time on earth is incredibly precious and not to be taken for granted. We may not know the date of our death, but we can make each day count. Each day is a gift to be used well. We can take advantage of every opportunity to make repentance for the times we have done wrong. We can make teshuva with the people who are important to us.
Yes, Yom Kippur concluded this past Wednesday evening. The liturgy of the ne’ila (concluding) service conjures up a closing gate, a closing window of opportunity to us to repent for our transgressions and return to God’s ways. But it is never too late. The sea is always open, even as the gates of repentance are always open. (Lamentations Rabbah 3:43, section 9)
We do not have to wait until next year to make things right; the time is now.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)