This week’s Parsha is framed in bittersweet sentiment. On the one hand, it was the dawn of Moshe’s final day upon earth. On the other hand, his final words heralded the end of 40 years in the desert. Soon the Jews would be crossing into the Promised Land.
Imagine we are standing in the plains of Moav, at the foot of Har Nebo, within sight of the Yarden and the Promised Land. It was the morning of the 7th of Adar, 2488. The sun is about to crest the eastern summit of Nebo and a dreaded silence fills the encampment.
No one has slept this past night knowing that this was to be Moshe’s last day. Everyone, from the venerable ancients who could remember Moshe’s miraculous birth to the newly born who would never remember this moment, had all gathered. All night long, in silent dread, we have stood waiting, crying, and wondering. What will we do? How will we go on? Moshe our Teacher is about to die and there is nothing we can do about it!
The Mishkan, majestic, magnificent, and beautiful, should have been bursting with activity. Instead, it stands silent and brooding, seemingly bereft of its inner glow. Where are the Kohanim and the Leviyim? Why don’t we hear the harmonies and smell the sweet smell of the incense? It is almost sunrise and the Avodah (service) must go on!
Yet, like the rest of the nation, Elazar the Kohain Gadol along with Pinchas and the others can not imagine how they will be able to get through the day’s routine. How can they possibly serve G-d in joy and contentment knowing that today will be Moshe our Teachers last day? But what choice do they have? The Avodah must go on!
All night long we have been gathered around Moshe’s tent as he instructed the great Yehoshua. Oh that we have reached this fateful day!
But wait! Yehoshua is coming out. Look at his face! It seems to glow with a light as bright as the shine of the moon in a dark starry night! What has happened? Where is Moshe Rabbeinu?
Suddenly an expectant hush falls over all of us. There must be more than 3 million people here! Tribal heads, members of the Sanhedrin (supreme court), dignitaries, men, women and children. Even the servants and the water carriers are standing among us in silent anticipation.
The great Yehoshua turns to the tent’s entrance and bows his head. There he is! It is Moshe Rabbeinu! Every parent seems to be holding a child aloft so that even the very youngest can gaze on the face of our Moshe! Oh! How can I describe it? The simple joy and love that emanates from his smile as he looks out upon all of us is magical. Each and every one of us feels the sadness and dread drain away. What regal bearing! What majesty! Even with the veil we can sense the celestial power of his radiance. We must remember this moment! How lucky we are to have shared in the glory of G-d Who gave of His wisdom to a mere mortal man!
But wait! It looks like Moshe is going to lift the veil. Yes, it is extraordinary! His face really does shine like the sun!
Hush! He’s about to speak. His voice seems to be carried as if on the wind itself. It’s an ageless voice that resonates with the echoes of Sinai. If G-d had a voice, it would be the voice of Moshe our Teacher. We must listen very carefully. There are his final words; today is Moshe’s final day…
“Today you are all standing… your leaders, your law enforcers, every Israelite man, your children, your women… even your wood cutters and water carriers…” (29:9)
Preparing For Selichos
The moment we hear the Chazan (cantor) sing the hauntingly beautiful melodies of the Yomim Noraim, a hushed sense of expectation descends over the congregation. The Day of Judgment is almost here. Am I ready? Am I prepared? If not, it is definitely time to begin. This is the intended reaction to the Selichos which we will begin Saturday night, at midnight.
Chazal established two basic rules for Selichos. 1. Always start on a Sunday. 2. We must say Selichos for a minimum of 4 days prior to Rosh Hashana. We start on Sunday to give ourselves the added advantage of starting our appeal while still cloaked in the sanctity of Shabbos. We start at midnight so as to grab every possible moment of preparation for the Day of Judgment. We say Selichos for a minimum of 4 days to imitate the 4 day process of preparation that a Korban – sacrifice underwent before it could be offered on the Mizbeach (alter).
The Selichos themselves capture the hopes and tears of generations as they beseeched G-d for continued protection, forgiveness, and benevolence. Highlighting the entire service is the repetition of the 13 names of G-d as He manifests His love, compassion, and mercy for His people and universe. The names by which we refer to G-d (Hashem – the Name) describe how we wish G-d to relate to us at any given moment. Taught to Moshe in the aftermath of the Golden Calf, this 13-name formula evokes G-d’s mercy.
Rosh Hashana means going to court, which should foster in us an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. This feeling should humble us into recognizing how much we need G-d’s mercy and forgiveness. Motzoei Shabbos (Saturday night), through the words of the Selichos, we will be able to express that sense of humility and vulnerability.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.