Numbers 25:10 – 30:1
The Mount of Transitions
As we are nearing the end of the Book of Numbers, and therefore the end of the Exodus narrative — which will be retold by Moses in the last book of Deuteronomy — this week’s Torah portion tells of Moses receiving God’s instructions on how to prepare for his impending death. Moses is to climb up a mountain where he is to die, but only after being given the opportunity to look upon the Promised Land for the last time. From the mountaintop, Moses looks into the future. A future without him. The mountain itself has an intriguing name. It is called Har HaAvarim, which, in Hebrew, means the Mount of Transitions.
I often share that in my reading of Torah I see all the characters in the stories as representing different aspects of ourselves. This week, you are Moses. What would you do if God had made known to you the imminence of your own death, yet with enough time to prepare? How would such knowledge impact your life? Here you are, at the twilight of your life, about to die, thinking back on all that you have accomplished; but also given the opportunity to look forward in time, taking-in the vast territory to be explored still, yet knowing full well that you will not be able to taste its promises, or discover its gifts.
To me, the thought of death has a healing finality. As I am able to rest in that space of not-knowing, all that I breathlessly run after, all the busy-ness which surrounds my life, all the stress and the worrying, start to lose their importance. With the awareness of death, things in my life slow down remarkably. Suddenly, each breath really matters; each sensation in my body, each beating of my heart becomes precious and delicious. Without a tomorrow, today is what matters. The old grudges and the long-held resentments loosen their grip on my heart. I wonder why I spend so much energy fighting these fights, with indignation and self-righteousness. Now my heart calls me to forgive; to forgive myself, and to forgive others.
In truth, none of us knows when this day might come. Consider that preparing now for our death tomorrow might help us live life more fully. It might push us to embrace every minute wholeheartedly and mindfully. Such awareness might support a deeper healing of mind and heart. Once our never-ending drive for material happiness has lost all meaning; once our never-satisfied ego-desires and our need for this illusion of control have dissolved, we might be better positioned to wake up to the One we have always been.
This is the kind of realization that Moses has in our portion. In a rare occasion in Torah, it is Moses who addresses God after he learns of the imminence of his death. But the name by which he calls God reveals his awakening in that moment: “And Moses spoke to the Eternal, saying… YHVH Elohei haruchot l’chol basar”– YHVH, transcendent One, un-manifest One, Great Emptiness who manifests as the breathing soul which animates all flesh, all form.” [Num. 27:15-16] Moses realizes that his mortal body is but one unique expression of the Divine Breath; that each of us is God incarnated. He recognizes that the Essence of who we are is not the little “me” identified with the body, the thoughts or the emotions. This Divine Essence is our Source, the Ground of our being. It was never born and, therefore, will never die