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Parashat Vayelekh

October 3, 2008

Shabbat Shuvah
By Jill Minkoff

Be Strong and Brave

Half of forty years ago this season, I sent my youngest child to her first day of school. For both of us, it was fraught with excitement and fear. She had heard about this day for much of her life, a day of great possibility, yet a day of neither parent being able to accompany her. She felt pulled to her future yet reluctant to let go of the hand that had been with her for so much of her life. She was fearful and cried. Would she be safe in this new place? Would people be nice to her? (Do you remember how you felt on your first day of school or at some other major transition in your life?) We both felt anxious. At least, it was only for a few hours that she would be in school before returning home to her family and friends.

Imagine that you are living the story we read in this week’s parashah. For all your life you have wandered the desert with Moses as your leader. He was with your parents as they left the bonds of slavery in Egypt. You were not yet born when Moses, because he was receiving the Ten Commandments from God, was delayed on the mountain and his absence brought so much fear to your parents and their friends that they created the “golden calf” in hopes that something concrete would bring them emotional calm. Now, you are about to cross into the land you have been promised. You hoped for this day your entire life. It is a time of great possibility. (You do not yet know that it is one where Moses, like your parents, is not able to go with you.)

Moses has called all of you together. You listen to him say he has lived a full life and that God has told him he will not cross into Israel with you. Oh my, what will you do? How will you survive? You are so frightened by the possibility that you do not even take time to have empathy for Moses. You are trying to be in touch with your own feelings. Are you fearful? Angry? This is a major transition and evidently too meaningful to let pass without something or someone major being in the place of Moses, something to help assuage your emotions and those of your fellow Israelites. Immediately Moses shares that God that will cross the Jordan before you. Perhaps remembering the “golden calf” incident, he adds that Joshua will cross before you also.

Whew, OK. It’s good to know that God is here; and you will be able to see Joshua leading the way. Yet, even with this new knowledge, you still feel anger, fear and loss. You are so caught up in your emotions that you do not hear Moses share that God will destroy those that are in your way as you enter into the land that has been promised. You also do not hear the warning that you must then do as God commands.

Moses ends his address with a statement to be strong and brave because God is with you. (Easier said than done!)

Unbeknownst to you, Moses summons Joshua and asks him to be strong and brave. Perhaps it is best that you are not aware that Joshua himself may need to be bolstered in spirit and emotion also. Moses uses the same approach with Joshua that he used with you. Moses tells him that God will be before him and with him; God will not forsake or abandon him; and therefore, there is no need to be afraid or to let spirits dissipate.

Also unbeknownst to you, God tells Joshua to be strong and brave and to know that God is with him.

Transitions can be emotionally challenging. We enter into the unknown. Even when there are promises of “milk and honey,” there are still challenges that need to be faced. We do not always have a hand to hold or the knowledge that we have a safe place to return to. Quite often, we cannot return to where we have been.

We are in the season of transition from one year to the next. We are entering a time of renewal and the unknown. We are fraught with a mix of excitement and anxiety about what the new year may bring. Know that God is with you. Be strong and brave.


Jill Minkoff is a rabbinical student at AJR.