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How We Can Translate Riches of What We Have
Parashat Va'et Hanan opens as Moses shares his plaintive request to the Holy One to be allowed to enter the promised land with the people he has shepherded. "O Lord," he cries, "Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan." God's reply is immediate and direct: "But the Holy One was wrathful with me on your account and would not listen to me ... and said to me, " 'Enough! Never speak to Me of this matter again!' "
We read these words and then turn to the Haftorah that provides the name of this Shabbat: Shabbat Nachamu/the Shabbat of Consolation. This first Shabbat after Tisha B'Av offers Isaiah's direction to the leaders: comfort the people, reassuring them that God is good and beyond compare. But can this comfort Moses?
Moses tells us that God's message to him was rav-lach. The translation, "enough!" is alternatively rendered, "Enough for you!" and "You have much." What is enough? Is God telling Moses that his journey has come to an end -- what has come before must be sufficient? Or is God's message that Moses has already been blessed by an abundance of favor and compassion?
Moses, born into a family of slaves, grew up in a palace. In spite of murdering an Egyptian, he became the leader of the Israelites. Time and again, Moses was granted God's favor. When he asked that his sister Miriam be healed of the mysterious illness that disfigured her and interrupted the journey of the entire people, God healed her and the people moved on. Rabbi Shefa Gold reads rav-lach as "You have so much!"
Gold suggests that God might have continued: "I am answering your request in this very moment, but you must open your eyes to receive it. You must lift your eyes beyond your own limited expectations. You must climb the mountain to take in the wide expanse. You don't need to cross the Jordan. You are already Home."
On this Shabbat Nachamu, what is "enough" for us? What comforts us when we feel, as Moses may have, cheated or robbed of what we feel is rightfully "ours"? What soothes us when we are sorely disappointed? Moses was comforted by his belief in God, and his clarity that faithfulness to the Holy One would insure the continued life and health of Moses' descendants.
The strength of that relationship sustained Moses as he struggled for four decades to serve as God's deputy and spokesperson. As the portion ends, Moses proclaims: "this is the Instruction ... that your God, the Holy One, has commanded [me] to impart to you ... Hear, O Israel! The Holy One is your God, the Eternal One, alone. You shall love your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might."
These words are often the first taste of Judaism for those who are born into -- or seek to enter -- the world of Jewish practice. They resonate with particular power, for they serve as an answer to Moses' opening cry of frustration. When we repeat them, perhaps we can draw strength from Moses' faith, which served as a spiritual home even as he was denied the land of promise.
In our world of great material abundance, when can we say: "Enough -- it is enough for us"? And if we are able to acknowledge that we, like our rabbi Moses "have so much," how might we, following Moses' lead, impart our gratitude to our descendants?
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, Ph.D., serves as Union rabbi and worship specialist for the Union for Reform Judaism. E-mail her at: slelwell@ urj.org.