Josh Satok is the Senior Assistant Director of URJ Kutz Camp
This shabbat, in addition to being Shabbat Shuva, the shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we read a special and beautiful haftarah all about repentance and forgiveness, is also one of the last parshiyot of the year, Vayelech. I want to call our attention to one particular line from Vayelech (and there aren’t that many to choose from- at 30 psukim, Vayelech is the shortest parsha in the Torah). Most of the parsha concerns Moses passing on the mantle of leadership to Joshua and instructing the Israelites about Hakhel, the gathering they will undertake every seven years during Sukkot to read the Torah, and warning of how the people will stray after Moses’ death, that God will be angry and forsake them, but that they will have “hashira hazot”, this song, to remind them and serve as a witness.
However, this week what is really resonating with me the most is the second pasuk of the parsha, Deuteronomy 31:2:
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֗ם בֶּן־מֵאָה֩ וְעֶשְׂרִ֨ים שָׁנָ֤ה אָנֹכִי֙ הַיּ֔וֹם לֹא־אוּכַ֥ל ע֖וֹד לָצֵ֣את וְלָב֑וֹא וַֽיהוָה֙ אָמַ֣ר אֵלַ֔י לֹ֥א תַעֲבֹ֖ר אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּ֥ן הַזֶּֽה׃
And Moses said to them, “Today I am one hundred and twenty years old. I can no longer go or come, and the Lord said to me, “You shall not cross this Jordan.”
I’ve been home in Toronto for a week now, since before Rosh Hashanah, and feel lucky to still have another week and a half at home over the chagim, finally having a chance to relax and catch my breath after an amazing summer at Kutz, meaning that I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my family. In particular, I’ve been trying to make as much time as possible to go visit my grandpa, who’s been in the hospital since December, my grandma, who is spending most of her time caring for him, and my Bubby, who now constantly regales us with tales of her exploits in Ubers since she gave up driving last year, finally acknowledging she was getting older (and admitting to herself that frankly, she’s much better at being an Uber passenger, bragging about her 4.85 rating, then she ever was at being a driver). And so, after a summer spent constantly surrounded by so many young, healthy, active teenagers and college students at Kutz, I’ve had to confront again what it means for people who I love so much, who have been such a vital part of my life, to have abilities that they’ve always taken for granted slowly start to fade away. My grandparents, who once had the complete ability and vitality that Moses did latzet v’lavo, to go and to come, to be active, are now seeing that slowly fall away from them. The transition has been particularly stark with my grandpa, who went through an extremely dramatic shift from being a doctor curing sick patients to now being a patient on the same floor of the hospital where he ran a clinic, confined to bed or a wheelchair as he tries to recover from cancer.
I know how lucky I am to still have three of my grandparents with me, in good enough mental and physical shape that we can spend time together, talk, go out for dinner, and enjoy each others’ company. But, I find myself becoming more and more scared by the reality that this won’t last. No longer living in the same place as them, my visits home are relatively rare, and a part of me is in a constant fear that the moments I get to spend with them are limited. I can’t help but think about what it means when time starts coming to an end, when the years start coming to a close, when the abilities start to fade, when we realize that there are Jordan rivers that won’t be crossed. It’s another version of the feeling I get every summer at Kutz, knowing that we are experiencing something so special that we need to hold on to while we can because the last day will come, the buses will leave, that what we have won’t last forever.
So my hope and my prayer for all of us this Shabbat Shuva, as we continue to repent, to consider our actions, to think about the year that has passed and the year ahead, is that we all are able to grasp on to those 120 years of Moses that we have before we’re no longer able to come and to go. That we make sure we spend those extra moments with our grandparents and all of our loved ones, that we live our lives to the fullest, that we treasure what the Moseses in our lives have brought before their time gives way to the Joshuas that will follow them.
Let us try our best during these aseret y’mai teshuva, these Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to spend a little less time bemoaning what went wrong and saying sorry for the mistakes we’ve made and a little more time rejoicing in what went right and saying thank you for the gifts we’ve been given. While we have the gift of being able to come and to go, let’s hold tight to what and who we are blessed to have in our lives. And may we reach the day, at the end of our 120 years, when we can pass along our mantle of love and of leadership to the Joshuas that will come after us , secure in the knowledge that we’ve lived good, full lives, that we’ve done our coming and going as we wished while we could, and that we’ve journeyed just a little bit closer to the Promised Land.
Wishing all of our Kutz community and your loved ones a Gmar Chatimah Tovah, and only the happiest, sweetest new year.