At what point in life can we say that we are leaving a legacy to the future? Some of us in this sanctuary tonight might declare, “Wait – I’m am not there yet! I’m not finished creating my legacy!” If you have been watching the Olympics, you know that some athletes are creating their legacy at a very young age, or even adding to the mark they had already left on their particular sport.
Aly Raisman, at age 22, achieved a silver medal in the individual all-round women’s gymnastics competition yesterday. It was a special triumph for her, after she had been denied a medal at the 2012 Olympics even though she was in a virtual tie for the bronze. Aly’s teammates have been calling her “Grandma” because she is a seasoned veteran and the oldest member of the team. She is not yet done competing in this year’s Olympics, but her legacy is already well-established, setting an example of dedication and hard work for future Olympic competitors.
American swimmer Michael Phelps, at age 31, continues to add to his record medal count. He has overcome many personal challenges in his life outside the pool to solidify the respect and admiration of all. In the 2016 Olympics, we are seeing him not only as a fierce competitor, but also as caring husband and father.
There are other sports figures completing their careers this year, especially in the world of baseball. Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz will retire at the end of this season at age 40 after a long and distinguished run. Mark Teixiera of the New York Yankees is retiring from baseball at age 36 as injuries over the last few years have limited his ability to be an impact player. Alex Rodriguez, at age 41, is playing his last game for the New York Yankees tonight, ending a 22-year career. He said earlier this week, “I want to be remembered as someone who tripped and fell a lot, but kept getting up.” Along with a number of personal issues, his use of performance-enhancing drugs could tarnish the outstanding legacy he had hoped to leave to his sport.
The Torah reading for this week gives us a glimpse at someone we know well at the end of his career. On this Shabbat, we begin the book of Deuteronomy, which is presented as the farewell address of Moses to the Israelites. According to biblical chronology, Moses’ 40-year career as the leader of the Israelites began well after the aforementioned sports figures have or will have retired. Exodus Chapter 7 noted that Moses was 80 years old when he first went before Pharaoh to demand that the Israelites be freed from slavery.
Even in the first 11 verses of this book, we see indications of special aspects of Moses’ character that made him a patient and effective leader.
In verse 7, Moses told the people to make their way into the land of Canaan. He offered that encouragement knowing full well that he would not be continuing with them on their journey. This demonstrates the selflessness and generosity of spirit with which Moses directed the people to the threshold of their destination.
Moses reminded the people that the land was sworn to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses knew that the people might forget all that had preceded them unless he offered a reminder of their history that would endure. We can only imagine how the tales of the patriarchs and matriarchs told to the newest generation of Israelites captured their imagination while giving them a firm foundation for their identity as a people. And that connection to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah must have been powerful for them, because we know that those names and the stories associated with them still resonate with us.
In verse 9, Moses said, “I cannot bear the burden of you by myself,” a declaration fleshed out in verses 12 to 17. This reference to Moses’ sharing of judgment and leadership offered an insight into his humility. In this brief passage, he recounted how he had learned so well the lesson from his father-in-law Jethro about delegating tasks to others. He understood he couldn’t do it all, and that, in giving wise and experienced people responsibility, he would solidify the chance that the Israelites would succeed in creating a strong community in the land that had been promised them. In telling the Israelites that he knew he couldn’t have taken on the mantle of leadership all by himself, he assured the possibility that his people would continue to apply that lesson and approach in the future.
Moses proclaimed in verse 11, “May the Eternal, the God of your ancestors, increase your numbers a thousand fold, and bless you as promised.” This was like the blessing of a father to his children. That is likely how Moses felt about the people. These were the same Israelites who had tested his patience and taken Moses to his wits end too many times. They were also the people whom he had defended before God more than once so that they could complete their journey and grow as a community. Even with that history, Moses offered them a blessing. It is likely that at least some of the people knew what they had put Moses through. Because of that, we can see them appreciating Moses even more for his patience and perseverance.There are legacies that we leave throughout our lives when we complete a time of service to a community, to an organization, or in our relationships with friends and family members. All the work we do, when all is said and done, reflects who we are and how we want to be remembered. May the impact and the difference we are still making on the world endure in ways we cannot even imagine.