Parashah Ponderings

Teach Us to Number Our Days

Parashat Ha’Azinu / פרשת האזינו

Deuteronomy 32:1 – 32:52

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of Returning. It is so named after the reading from Prophets that exhorts us to return to God, a fitting message for the Shabbat that falls between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, a period known as Aseret Yemei Teshuva or Ten Days of Repentance.

Most of Ha-Azinu is a poem spoken by Moses prophesying Israel’s fall from God’s favor upon entering the land of Israel, but what I find most meaningful and apt for this time of year are the verses at the end of the parashah that speak of Moses’ death:

That very day the Lord spoke to Moses: Ascend these heights of Abarim to Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab facing Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving the Israelites as their holding. You shall die on the mountain that you are about to ascend, and shall be gathered to your kin, as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his kin; for you both broke faith with Me among the Israelite people, at the waters of Meribath-kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, by failing to uphold My sanctity among the Israelite people. You may view the land from a distance, but you shall not enter it — the land that I am giving to the Israelite people. 

Here we have God telling Moses to climb Mount Nebo and there prepare to die. In essence, God is alerting Moses to the fact that his death is imminent. With this warning, Moses might have reviewed his life and asked himself how might he make the best use of the days that remain. Though he was soon to remove himself from his community, might he still be able to do things even a little differently?

I honestly cannot say what Moses might have been thinking as God instructed him to prepare for his death, but I do know that you and I could meet our end at any time and that we should very well be asking ourselves the question “How might I do things differently with the little time I have left?” Of course, it’s not enough to just ask the question. We must respond to the question and effect the change necessary to do those things we said we would do.

Psalm 90:12 reads: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. This for me is the ultimate lesson of this Torah reading and of the Ten Days of Repentance. This is a time to acknowledge the frailty of life and to recommit ourselves to making each day count. Most of us will live long after tomorrow. Unlike Moses, we have it in our ability to change in meaningful ways, to “return” to God, to make a difference in the world.

Let us not wait until our days are limited by age or failing health. Let us not wait until we walk up our own Mt. Nebo. Let’s begin to number our days now.

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