Upon coming to the end of his life, Moshe prepares the Jewish people for what was to come as best as he could. To do so, he had to encourage them to reach their potential, even if that potential was no longer what he once had in mind. And this is exactly what he does in his parting speeches.

But it was not enough to inform the Jews of their current potential. Moshe felt obligated to remind them of the true ideal as well – the capability for all the people to reach a state of prophecy (this potential is alluded to in Number 11:29). After all, the Jews had attained it at Sinai (and according to some opinions, also at the crossing of the Reed Sea). To encourage them to remember the need for such an ideal, he recounts what happens when one settles for less. What happens can easily be death and destruction.

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Yet even without the destruction of the community, the path chosen by the Jews had left no more room for someone as great as Moshe (nor perhaps for Aharon and Miriam as well). Like Choni ha Ma’agel who prefers death to spiritual loneliness (Ta’anit 23a), Moshe cannot live when his sublime life’s vision has been rendered irrelevant. The Jews will be granted another chance in the land of Israel to slowly build up to Moshe’s ideal. They will have new spiritual greats, and when the exhortations of these greats also fall on deaf ears, they too will disappear, whether by death or by simple irrelevance. As with Moshe, even if they are there, it will be as if they are not.

And yet in spite of it all, Moshe’s vision will not die. Both through his life and through his charge – both eternally recorded in the Torah – his message lives on forever, reminding us that there is a very lofty ideal that we must strive to somehow reach. Awareness of that ideal and our need to aspire to it is the legacy that Moshe leaves us.

{This essay is based on an excerpt in Rabbi Francis Nataf’s upcoming “Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Deuteronomy” and was prepared with editorial support from Harry Glazer of Highland Park, NJ}

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Rabbi Francis Nataf (www.francisnataf.com) is a Jerusalem-based educator and thinker and the author of four books of contemporary Torah commentary. His parshah column appears weekly in The Jewish Press. Rabbi Nataf is also the author of, "Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Leviticus"
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