Last week, 24 hours before Rosh Hashanah, before we entered the new year and the Gates of Heaven, the Gates of redemption, opened, we focused on Moses’ words, noticing as we prepared to enter the covenant — both the covenant that Moses focuses on with the Israelites and the covenant that we re-enter with God each and every year — we did so Atem Nitzavem Hayom, standing still.
This past Shabbat, Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of Return, the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is all about transition. We are in a state of limbo. We have been written, but not yet sealed, in the Book of Life. Additionally, our Torah reading focuses on the transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua.
Moses says: “I can no longer be active. Moreover, God said to me ‘You shall not go across the Jordan” (Deut. 31:2). Moses then calls to Joshua and tells him “be strong and resolute” (Deut. 31:7). Chazak v’amatz. These words literally mean be strong and courageous. Midrash HaGadol says that when Moses tells Joshua “Chazak v’Amatz,” what he actually means is be strong in Torah, and to have courage means that one shall not fear, for God is with you.
Soon after, God says to Moses “The time is drawing near for you to die. Call Joshua and present yourselves in the Tent of Meeting” (Deut. 31:14). Midrash explains that when a divine voice called out to Moses and told him that this was his last day on earth, he went from the Levite camp to the Israelite camp and spoke to each person personally. He left nothing unsaid, no word left unspoken.
A week ago, we had been standing still, and now, although we have moved forward, we are stuck in this in-between. We have been written, but not yet sealed. And what if we don’t make it? What if we too don’t get to cross the Jordan? I am not suggesting or wishing that any of us choose to live our lives believing we won’t be alive tomorrow. To do so would make life totally unbearable. But what I am suggesting is that we take for granted that we will be here. We are already placing our bagel orders for break-fast.
But what if we don’t make it? Moses had the opportunity to know ahead of time. The truth is, he knew well in advance. He first got word in Sefer Bamidbar, in Parashat Chukat, after he struck that rock. But he didn’t accept it. He suppressed his fears and anxiety. Only now, once he heard a bat kol, a Heavenly Voice, call out to him did he accept this was reality. And Midrash explains that he didn’t hold anything back. He said what he needed to say.
And let that be a lesson to us all. On Yom HaDin, on Yom Kippur, on Judgement Day, we stand before the Almighty Judge, asking for compassion and forgiveness in the name of Justice. But we do not know what the sentence will be. We do not know if we will cross the Jordan. So let us make sure that we leave no word unsaid. Say what is on our minds, what we’ve been wanted to say for years, to our friends, family, and loved ones. Make sure they know how we feel and what we think.
When Moses tells Joshua, Chazak v’Amatz, maybe he isn’t really talking to Joshua at all. He is projecting. He is talking to himself. He is telling himself to stay strong, to not fear, as he goes on this unknown path. May those be words of inspiration for all of us during this days of repentance. May we all be strong and courageous as we face the unknown. We don’t know what the end result will be, but let us make sure that we leave no word left unsaid.
G’mar Chatima Tova.
-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky