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Rabbi Zaltzman on Parashat Va’etchanan

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In this week’s Torah portion, Moses expresses how he was denied his repeated requests to be allowed to lead the Israelite nation into the Promised Land. Ultimately, it was Joshua, not Moses, who took charge as the Israelites conquered the land. The sages teach that, had Moses himself led them in, it would have been a miraculous experience and there would have been no need to wage war with the occupying nations, who would have welcomed the Israelites with open arms.

Why was it the divine will that events should unfold in a more challenging way, with hardship and suffering? Indeed, we could ask this same question about many aspects of life, both historical and personal.

Often, we view life in an oversimplified way. We pursue the path of least resistance – or as Sigmund Freud would put it, we try to seek pleasure and avoid pain.  But the true purpose of existence is much more profound: that the divine should become revealed to the greatest extent possible, within our human, down-to-earth reality. Sometimes this comes about through much pleasantness and little or no pain. But more often than not, it requires the more challenging path, through which we have to struggle and persevere to achieve our goals, and often, the greater the potential for light, the greater resistance we encounter.

This mission of drawing and revealing divine light into the human sphere was better served by Moses not leading the Israelites across the Jordan River in a miraculous way. As a result, the victory was more human. It belonged to every individual who toiled to be part of it, rather than something that came easily and miraculously from above. When things unfold through a more natural, albeit more challenging path, the divine light shines through and becomes integrated with the human experience, and becomes an integrated part of each and every one of us. Herein lies the secret to shifting our perspective so that, as much as possible, we view our challenges as opportunities to increase divine light in our lives. 

Rabbi Yoseph Y. Zaltzman is the founder and senior rabbi of the Jewish Russian Community Centre of Ontario.