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Drash on Ekev 2023

Rabbi Gary J Robuck

Temple Beth Israel

The Wisdom of a Zeide

Which Moses do you think of when you hear his name?  The vulnerable baby Moses placed in the Nile by his sister Miriam? The quixotic Moses who, as a young adult, dared to go out to his people to defend their honour and their lives who is then sent into exile as a result? The enquiring Moses who “turned aside” to see the wondrous sight of a bush that didn’t burn? Or the Moses who stands with his brother Aaron before Pharaoh; heroic, proud and defiant, declaring, sh’lach et ami – “Let me people go”? and then subsequently leads them out of slavery?

There is no Prophet in Israel to compare with him.  Yet Moses is a complex character.  He strikes the rock at Merivah, he smashes the tablets at Sinai, he grows impatient with the people’s backsliding, but more than once too, implores God to remember the covenant made with our ancestors.

For me, I am drawn to the Midrashic Moses, Moses the shepherd who cared for his flock with tender patience and love; to the curious “baby Moses”, who, as legend has it, reaches for a lump of burning coal, brings it to his mouth, and suffers a lifelong speech impediment as a result. And I think of Moses as we see him here in this week’s sidra Ekev – a Zeide, nearing the end of his life, sharing the sum of his experiences, transmitting his yerusha (ethical will) to his children.

In our sidra, Moses, Israel’s Zeide, becomes patently human. He expresses his hope that his children should be good, remain faithful to the Torah, and respectful of their faith and family. He implores his followers to stay clear of foreign gods and to keep the commandments once reaching the promised land. And he warns them not to grow haughty once affluent and to remember the times of want in the hour of their abundance.

How do we know that Moses desires that his children be grounded and grateful?  In Deuteronomy 8:10 it is written: “When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to your God for the good land given to you.”  (Deut.8:10)

This verse which forms the foundation for our Birkat Ha’Mazon (Grace after Meals) makes Zeide’s concern for his children obvious.  He is worried that they will lose their sense of proportion, grow spoiled, fat, and unappreciative, rather than grateful for the industry of others or for the love and goodness of God. How it must have hurt him to believe that his children could grow selfish once in the land flowing with milk and honey, concluding that it was (by) “my own power and the might of my own hand (that I) have won this wealth for me.” (Deut. 8:17)

Like the mature Moses found in our parasha, we spend our entire lives working, caring for our families, and building our social and professional circles.  It is only near the end that we afford ourselves the opportunity to ask what it means, question what we have learned, or what we wish to leave behind.

So which Moses do I think of when I hear his name? One who is grey with worry, wondering about what will be when he is gone, and seeking to convey one final, summary message.  A Zeide, poised to share his last words of eitzah (advice), one last reminder about what counts most to him.   And what words does he choose?  “…Faithfully keep the commandments, love your God, walk in all God’s ways, and cling fast to God.” (Deuteronomy 11:22)

This is the wisdom of a Zeide!

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