13 Av 5773 / July 19-20, 2013
In this week’s portion, Va’etchanan, we find Moses continuing his speech to the Israelites. Most notably, Moses, while preaching, proclaims to the Israelites that he pleaded with God to be permitted to enter the Promised Land, but that “God was wrathful with me on your account.”
As you’ll recall, the reason Moses was not permitted to enter the Promised Land was due to striking a rock rather than speaking to it (as God had instructed) in order to bring forth water for the nation. If we look into the cause and effect reality of the situation, the Israelites complained that they were thirsty, and as a result of that complaint, Moses ultimately ended up striking the rock. Thus, he attributes blame to the nation.
I can’t help but feel that to blame the Israelites for his own failure to specifically obey God’s command shines a light on Moses’s inability to be introspective, and an unwillingness to take responsibility for his own actions. Perhaps it was actually this failure to admit his own wrongdoing and ask forgiveness for it that ultimately prevented him from being permitted to enter the Promised Land?
We have all come across individuals unwilling to apologize for their mistakes, and so too, we have all heard apologies we know to be insincere. My guess is that each of us has had moments where we’re unwilling to apologize, thinking that we’re the one due an apology, and that we’ve also apologized to others without real intention or admission of guilt – the “I’m sorry if you were offended by my actions” apology.
We’re taught in our tradition that we’re meant to mimic God in myriad ways. For example, we’re meant to be holy in our actions because God is holy. (Lev. 20:26) In this week’s portion, Moses reminds the Israelites that “The Lord your God is a consuming fire, an impassioned God.” (Deut. 4:24)
Just as being impassioned is a Divine attribute, so too do we as human beings often find ourselves impassioned beyond the point of reason. Just as God is described as a consuming fire, when we’re angry, upset, or feel that we’re due an apology, we have the tendency to let the issue consume us, with the smoke from our internal fire blinding us from the ability to reflect introspectively on how our own actions may have contributed to the situation at hand.
This Shabbat, take the opportunity to reflect on situations involving blame in your life. Who do you wish would apologize to you, for what action(s), and why? Who might you owe an apology to, for what action(s), and why? Strive to see the issue from the point of view of the other, to do the internal work necessary to cool down, and to mend wounds whenever and wherever possible. Maybe then, we’ll be permitted to enter our own Promised Land.