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"Rav Lakh"

The book of Devarim consists of three major farewell speeches that Moses makes to the people as they prepare to enter the Land of Canaan and he prepares to die.

Though Moses has known for years that he will not be permitted to enter the land, now that they are on the other side of the Jordan River he acts in a very human way. As any of us might do, Moses pleads with God to allow him to enter the land. God's response is succinct and final -- rav lakh -- often translated as "this is enough." In other words, God tells Moses that it's no use complaining or trying to persuade God to change the decree. Moses will not enter the land. Yet, the exact meaning of "rav lakh" is unclear and can be translated in numerous ways. It literally means "this is much for you." In addition to understanding it as "enough!" it can also be translated, as Rabbi Analia Bortz does in her commentary in "The Women's Torah Commentary," as "this is much for you" or "you have achieved much." Though still implying that God's decision will not change, God is also trying to remind Moses that he has accomplished much during the 40 years of wandering.

In her discussion of this parasha Rabbi Bortz discusses how the interaction between God and Moses implies a view of Moses as a mother giving birth to her children after a long and difficult labor. Though Moses is certainly male, the phrasing of God's response "rav lakh" is in the feminine. The masculine wording would be "rav lekha" just as God commands Abraham "Lekh Lekha" or, when commanding Moses to send spies, "Shelakh Lekha." Referring to much of the wording of the opening passage of the parasha Rabbi Bortz makes the case that the portrayal of Moses standing on the other side (of the Jordan) after 40 years of wandering can be seen as analogous to a mother standing on the "other side" of the moment of birth after the 40 weeks of pregnancy. Moses has been carrying the children of Israel for all this time and now they are about to be born into their new life. Only their mother will not be with them. Moses must let go in a way that is beyond that way in which most human mothers must let go. He longs to be able to go with them. He yearns to be able to take those few extra steps and cross over the river. And yet God proclaims clearly "rav lakh." This is enough for you! Or, as stated above, "you have achieved much." Indeed Moses has achieved much during this long gestation period. He has enabled the people to grow from slavery into freedom, from childhood through adolescence and now into adulthood. The journey was a difficult one and yet it was one in which Moses ultimately succeeded. Through his maternal nurturing ability he has enabled the people to reach this day.

There is a part of me that is uncomfortable ascribing Moses' nurturing nature to the feminine/maternal realm. We all have the ability to nurture within us. And yet I do believe that the ability and desire to nurture is the maternal/ feminine side of man. As Carl Jung would say, within each man there exists an "anima," what we might colloquially call the "feminine side" (just as within each woman there exists an "animus," or masculine side). It is the maternal/feminine side of Moses that enables him to continue to care for and nurture the people even as he must also chastise and even punish them during the years of wandering. It is the mother within Moses that enables him to remain a good leader and not become a tyrannical ruler, just as it is the maternal quality of rahamim (compassion -from the same root word as "womb" in Hebrew) that allows God to be seen as a loving and caring God even as "He" orders the punishment and chastisement of his people at times.

This balancing of maternal and paternal, or masculine and feminine, is essential to all human beings. At this liminal moment in the life of Moses and his "children" it is the feminine/maternal side that comes to the fore. I believe that it is this part of Moses that enables him to hear within "rav lakh" the voice that says "much is yours, much you have achieved" even as he also realizes that it also is telling him that he must leave all of this behind.

Bortz also mentions a poem by the Israeli poet Rachel entitled 'Ish u'Nebo lo' -- each has his/her own Nebo. This refers to Mt. Nebo where Moses stands to view the land, where Moses bids farewell to his "children" and where Moses ultimately dies. Within each of us there exists a time in our lives when we realize we must stand on Mt. Nebo -- when we must look at what we have accomplished up until that point -- what we have allowed to gestate within and through us -- and prepare to bid farewell. At those moments in our lives, when we stand on our Mt. Nebo, may we each have the ability to hear the dual voices of "rav lakh." May we be able to realize that the time to say "enough" has arrived -- that we have to let go. And may we also be able to hear that we have indeed achieved much. If we do so then that makes the "letting go" less painful. It also makes the transition, the "death" of whatever it is that is coming to an end, that much easier to accept. Most important of all, it allows us -- and others -- to continue on with life in the way that is most beneficial and meaningful for us all.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah