Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Nitzavim/Vayelech

Country star Tim McGraw had a hit with a song, “Live Like You Were Dying.” Ostensibly, the song was a tribute to his dad, the late Mets and Phillies pitching ace, Tug McGraw. In short, the song reminds us not to put off living. We are not guaranteed a moment with folks we love, tasks that we enjoy, or in settings that help us thrive.
The song’s chorus reads, “I went skydiving. I went Rocky Mountain climbing.I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu. And I loved deeper, and I spoke sweeter, And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.'” We should not wait until we are dying to live. We should not wait until we are dying to share our innermost sacred thoughts with the folks we love. In truth, even, the whole concept of “dying” challenges me because until we die, we are still living. How much time do we waste waiting to die? How obsessed are we with leaving our own finality that we spend our last days teaching and not sharing, withdrawing instead of embracing, grieving all that we didn’t do instead of checking at least one more thing off of our bucket list?

This week’s Torah portion (Nitzavim) begins telling us that this is Moses’ last day alive. What follows is a lengthy list of all the things for which Israel needs to pay attention, chastisements for their failures (which Moses just presumes will happen), and a promise that no matter how bad Israel gets, God will take them back.

Really? Is that all Moses has to share on his last day on earth? Does he take time out to hold his children and grandchildren and love on them? What about his wife? Are there no parting words of affection for her? No–Moses praises his chief protégé, Joshua ben Noon. Even in his praise, though, he attacks the integrity of Israel. He tells Joshua to be strong and courageous. This warning does not stem from Moses’ concern for the people’s safety in the turbulent waters outside of the people. Instead, Moses is warning Joshua that the people are stiff-necked and obnoxious.

Even while he acknowledges this incredible covenant that God has with the people, he bashes Israel for constantly ignoring its part of the covenant. I need to know why, with all of the blessings Moses had experienced in life, this painful conversation is all that Moses has left to offer. I am guessing that Moses never heard Tim McGraw sing.
Tim’s Dad coined a phrase that lives in the heart of all Mets fans, “You Gotta Believe!” It rallied them from the cellar in the division all the way to the World Series. Another New York Favorite Yogi Berra said, “It’s not over till it’s over.” When someone tells me that they are dying with cancer, I tell them that they are living with cancer. They will die when they die.

One of the “sacred cows” we don’t talk often talk about is Moses’ humanity. Even having seen God face to face, bearing the aura of light that traveled with him for all of his days post-Sinai, Moses has human failings. He got very upset with the people’s lack of faith and rebellions. He lost control of his anger and blasphemed before God (the incident over hitting rather than speaking to the rock for water – see Num. 20:11). Yes, we get upset. Yes, the best of us sometimes falter. Yes, there are ramifications for our failures, but at the end of our days, is that where we need to dwell? And, if the anger or frustration is not the legacy we want to leave, then perhaps it is not the way we want to live. 

“Live like you are dying.” We should all have so much more that we need to accomplish while alive, that we don’t have time to waste causing pain, promoting alienation, or … waiting for death.

We are blessed to have each day and have each day with each other. We have to make better use of this blessing. We have to better share this blessing. We have to take better ownership of proliferating this blessing. Shabbat Shalom.