In this week’s Parasha, the Torah comes to an end. Over the last year we’ve read about creation and death, wars and leadership overthrows, plagues and floods, miracles and walking from slavery to freedom. Reflecting on the closing of the Torah, David Levithan says in G-dcast’s V’zot Ha’Bracha video, “It’s hard to end something with a bang when it’s been banging all along.” So instead of trying to end with much excitement, it ends quietly, with a blessing and the peaceful death of a very old, successful leader. The beginning of the Torah, which we will read again next week as we restart the cycle over, is about birth and creation, blessings for goodness and God’s delight at all the works of God’s hand. The end of the Torah is about closure and death, but a natural peaceful death wherein Moses is buried by God alone.
The name of the parasha, “V’zot Habracha,” means “And this is the blessing”. Moses blesses all the People of Israel, speaks to each of the twelve tribes, and properly says his goodbyes. He might not feel one hundred percent ready to go, because goodbyes are often hard, but it appears he knows this is right and natural and important. He has served his purpose, led the people through the wilderness, and he was the last prophet to speak to God face to face. He is, and will always remain, very important to the Israelites and to Jews throughout history, but at this point in the story, it is time to let Joshua step up. The torch was already passed, Joshua was nominated to lead a few portions ago, and after some transition time, it seems Joshua, Moses, the people, and God, are all ready for the change to go into full affect. Moses has lived one hundred and twenty long years, and accomplished a goal he never even knew he wanted.
Not many people live to be 120 like Moses. In fact, only one person is documented to have definitely lived that long, a French woman named Jeanne Louise Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122. She once met Vincent Van Gogh and was thoroughly unimpressed. At the time that G-dcast.com, a wonderful site for easy-to-understand lessons on the weekly Torah portions, created its video for V’zot Habracha, the then oldest living woman had just passed. Her name was Gertrude Baines, and she was 115 when she died in 2009. She was the daughter of former Black slaves from the American south, and she lived to see women and Black Americans win the right to vote, and was herself able to vote for the first Black American president. When asked what she thought was the source for her good health and long life, she said simply, “God.” Currently, the oldest living person is Susannah Mushatt Jones. She was the child of sharecroppers, and worked hard in the fields in her adolescence. She was determined to work to get herself out of that difficult life, and was able to graduate high school. She had been accepted into the Tuskegee Institute for a higher education for herself, but couldn’t afford it, so she instead moved to NYC, where she worked as a nanny for wealthy families. Eventually she was able to use her some of her salary and savings to establish the Calhoun Club, a college scholarship for Black students. You don’t have to be a prophet to have a special relationship with God, or to accomplish much and witness even more with your life.
Not everyone lives to be 115 or 120, but we can all choose to make the most out of our lives at any age. May we all live each day in celebration of creation and freedom, appreciate each day’s excitements and moments of quietude, and embrace life’s adventures at every turn and do our best to help others do the same. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.