“Who is wise? One who foresees the future consequences of one’s actions.”
– BT Tamid 32a.
At the conclusion of the Torah, Moses, the greatest of the prophets, climbs up to the peak of Mount Nebo and looks out over the Promised Land, the land to which he successfully led his people after their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Though he was not allowed to enter the land, God rewarded Moses with a bird’s eye view of the land that the people would be blessed to inhabit. According to legend, God also laid out for Moses all the future of the Jewish people, their successes and failures, their sufferings and times of peace and prosperity.
At the High Holidays we may imagine ourselves climbing up, like Moses, to a great spiritual height. We imagine ourselves ascending, step by step, prayer by prayer, melody by melody. Once at the peak, we stand to look back at where we have journeyed in the past year, then we turn our gaze to the path before us, the next steps of our lives. Do we see clearly the choices that lie ahead? What decisions do we need to make in the coming months that will bring joy, and growth, blessings and life to ourselves and those for whom we are responsible?
But how can we, ordinary human beings, be like Moses? The Torah tells us that there will never again be a prophet like Moses – and even in the Bible the essential idea of prophecy was not necessarily to know and predict the future with certainty. Only God can see the future – and we are just ordinary human beings, living with others who are changeable and inconstant. We live in a universe that includes an element of randomness and unpredictability – despite our best efforts we will never be able to avoid every obstacle or accident. But the essential role of the prophet is not to see the future but rather to clarify the present – the choices and challenges – the values and principles by which we can decide on our path, and to choose our next steps as wisely as humanly possible.
At the high holidays, our task is to see the challenges and alternatives that are before us, and to make decisions we can live with – choices that affirm life, choices that reflect our values as Jews, choices that hold the greatest potential to bring blessing to ourselves and others in the New Year!
L’Shana Tova Tikateyvu – May you choose wisely in the New Year!
Rabbi David Kudan is the spiritual leader of Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody.