No Ceremonies Please
Translated and Adapted by Chaya Sara Ben Shachar
It was an overwhelmingly sad moment in Jewish history when "…Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel….'I am one hundred and twenty years old this day, I can no longer go out and come in; and G-d has said to me: You shall not cross this Jordan'..." (Deuteronomy 31:1-2).
After a lifetime spent leading the Jews through trials and triumphs, sad moments and joyous ones, Moshe is about to depart from his nation. As the Jews prepare to leave the desert and enter the Holy Land, Moshe readies for his departure from the world.
He must offer the Jews both guidance and solace. The first half of Deuteronomy is Moshe's spiritual advice to the nation. And when he finishes strengthening the Jews on that plane, he goes to offer words of comfort to the nation.
Moshe's going is testimony of his great humility. Instead of departing from the nation with lights and fanfare, he chose to enter the Israelite Camp from his own higher status Levite Camp, so as to offer personal words of solace. He chose to get off of the pedestal of leader in order to comfort his nation. And all of this with the knowledge that he would not merit entrance into the Promised Land.
As the Torah writes: "And the man Moshe was more humble than all men on the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3).
In the days before his death, this humility becomes apparent to all. This great leader never felt himself to be a cut above everyone. He performed his myriad tasks with the simplistic knowledge that he was fulfilling God's will. He redeemed the Jews from Egypt and later transmitted the Torah to them as a servant might fulfill his master's desires. No fanfare involved.
The time for Moshe to leave the world required no ceremony: only for him to speak to his nation as equals: "I am one hundred and twenty years old this day, I can no longer go out and come in." To comfort them by displaying his weakness. To tell them that they need not mourn his departure for they merited the leadership of youth, a leadership that was blessed by God. But now, the aged Moshe had completed his mission."
And then came the incredibly difficult task of handing over the mantle of leadership. As the Torah states, "The time is drawing near for you to die. Call Joshua and present yourselves in the Tent of Meeting, that I may instruct him" (ibid 14). Yehoshua (Joshua) was to become the new leader while Moshe was still alive. Moshe would go backstage while Yehoshua took over in the limelight.
And Moshe performed this awesome task with equanimity. He humbly gave over the scepter of his rulership to Yehoshua. And through this act, Moshe is remembered as the humblest man on the face of the earth. Not a god or above-human icon, but a man.
Moshe was the greatest prophet to have ever lived, and yet he is remembered as a man. A man with a heart who "went" to humbly comfort the nation.