This week’s parsha continues the theme of Moses preparing the Jews to enter the land of Egypt. He wants them to be ready for the challenges that they will face and he uses a mixture of encouragement and also some reminders of their past failings. He’s essentially been the father of this people, bringing them from Egypt and guiding them, trying to help them mold into a nation rather than just a ragged bunch of freed slaves. He knows his time left with them is short and that soon they’ll be on their own in a new land with new challenges.
Basically, he is a father giving one last speech to his children before they leave him and enter adulthood.
If you’re a regular reader, you already know we have 2 children. Our son is 13 and our daughter 11, so we’re facing adolescence head on. We have voices cracking and changing, mood swings, and sudden growth spurts. We also get wonderful glimpses of the adults our children are becoming. For us, this is a year of preparation, too. We’re preparing our children for, G-d willing, conversion and for joining Orthodox day schools. Our son faces a particularly lofty challenge, preparing to join a Orthodox Yeshiva, where most of his classmates will have been preparing for this since birth.
We live now, both literally and spiritually, in the wilderness and more and more we turn our gaze to a new land, a land that is foreign to us and has all kinds of new challenges and opportunities. Knowing how to catch and fillet a salmon won’t be much use there, nor will knowing what to do if you’re confronted by a moose or bear. We may be considered very well educated in Judaism here, but there…we’ll be beginners again and it may be hard for our children to adjust to being behind in much of their Judaic studies.
As we look ahead to the future and also look back on our time here in Alaska, I find myself wondering if as Moses spoke to the people, did some of them look back at the desert with conflicted feelings? Were they now so afraid to let Hashem down that they didn’t dare look back and commit the sin of the spies again or did some of them look back on the desert that they had grown up in and worry they would miss it? I know I look at the mountains with a mixture of feelings. There is an ache at the thought of leaving all this behind. Will I ever see it again? What if city life doesn’t agree with us? Will the children one day be upset that we took them far away from such an amazing place? Will we fit in there or will we be the strange converts from Alaska that people avoid?
I am a strong believer in the idea that one’s attitude has great power to shape their reality. How we view our lives is in large part due to how we choose to view them. We can choose to see everything as a blessing for our benefit from Hashem or we can choose to see ourselves as a victim of it. To me, there’s great power in knowing that I can choose how I will experience the things that happen in my life. I’m choosing to believe that this move will be the best thing for us. I’m certain it will come with challenges, but I’m choosing to believe we will rise to meet them as much as we have any challenge before and that we will receive the growth we need. I’m also choosing to believe that our new community will see the good in us that others have and that we will find our place, even if it takes some time.
Meanwhile, this year, I can relate to Moses worrying over his children, but knowing that the time is coming soon when they will need to begin to make their own way without him. My letting go is going to be a bit more gradual perhaps, but I know this is probably the last year that I will have my children so close to me and have this kind of influence over them. G-d willing, my son will get into Yeshiva and he will turn to his Rebbes more and more to guide him and he will learn from the boys there as well and they will probably have more of a hand in helping him find what kind of man he will be and I less. My daughter will still be in day school for a couple more years before high school, but it’s going to be different than public school and I expect that her teachers there will probably have more and more influence with her as well. More and more, I’ll be stepping back into a supporting role rather than a guiding one.
I’m sure Moses went through moments where he really wasn’t sure the Jewish people would make it without him in front of them, where it was so hard to even consider them off on their own without him. How could this people who’d made so many mistakes and gotten so lost even with him there now be trusted to stick to the mitzvahs in a land of their own, with all the obligations to make their living from the land? My own children still seem so fragile to me…and I also feel like we’re fragile new potential Jews. We’re going to face disappointments. We’re going to eventually meet Jews who aren’t so nice because Jews are human and subject to all the good and bad that humans have. We’re going to face all kinds of situations where it will be easier to stray from the mitzvahs, just like the Jews entering Israel did.
This week, it’s like Moses is speaking to our family, preparing to move, reminding us that when everything else seems murky and it’s hard to tell what is the right thing to do…to turn back to what we’ve learned from Torah and the leaders we trust to help us find the right way.