Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Parshas Haazinu

The Medrash describes the last day of Moshe’s life. He knew he was going to die but it actually came as a shock to the rest of the people. He walked around the entire perimeter of the camp of Israel and invited everyone to a meeting in the Ohel Moed. It was there that he broke the news to them of his approaching death. He did it gently. “I am a hundred and twenty years old today, I can’t come and go any more.” He took Yehoshua, his disciple and sat him down next to him for the whole Jewish people to see. Hashem told Moshe to let Joshua say over Halachos while Moshe was still alive so that after he dies people won’t say, ‘he wouldn’t of dared speak if Moshe was alive’. Hashem caused the cloud of glory to descend upon both of them so that people would gradually get used to Joshua’s leadership. He called him Hoshea, his old name that he had before the episode of the Meraglim, because apparently more people knew him by that name and they would better be able to adjust to their new leader.

Why all the ceremony? Why couldn’t Moshe who announced that there is a G-d in the world announce his successor? Why did Moshe have to gently massage the people so that they would accept the leadership of Yehoshua?

The answer is, because even a people who were able to deal with suffering, slavery, wars, hunger and a huge baron desert had a very difficult time dealing with change. Granted this was a quantum change that had a negative aspect to it, but the people of Israel couldn’t deal with Yitzias Mitzraim either. They preferred slavery to change. And after hearing the Torah from G-d Himself at Har Sinai the Torah reports that all of Israel were “crying in their tents”. They couldn’t handle the change. They were in love with what is familiar, with their rituals. They were allergic to change. It ruined their routine. It is human nature to adhere to elements of the old ways, even though they may no longer be relevant or necessary.

Let me tell you what is wrong with getting stuck and not being able to usher in a new era. If change was not tolerated…

There would be no Joshua,

There would be no Mishna,

There would be no seforim,

There would be no State of Israel ,

There would be no Daf Yomi,

There would be no Artscroll

There would be no Shul such as this Shul,

There would be no Baalei Teshuvah!

I have been involved in kiruv for 22 years. I have had hundreds of discussions with men, women and teenagers of every culture and background. I have learned that the baal teshuvah in not the one to whom you have proven the truth of G-d or the divinity of the Torah. The Baal Teshuvah is the man or woman that is willing to change! The person that is able to endure a change of routine, even a change of lifestyle in order to go on to bigger and better things.

“Zchor Y’mos Olam, binu shnos dor dor.” Contemplate the years that have passed. The Izbitcher Rebbe translated shnos as the changes of every generation. We have a profound sense of tradition but even as a nation we must never get stuck. Torah is dynamic and must adjust to every format possible.

Of course when it comes to Halacha we must leave decisions to the Gedolim but we have to tolerate change if we want there to be Gedolim, because the Vilna Gaon and the Chofetz Chaim are not here with us. Rav Shlomo Zalman Orbach once pointed out that much of the controversy that surrounded Rav Kook Zt”l was due to the fact that the European bochurim were used to Reb Chaim Ozer. No one could handle a renaissance rabbi.

We too must change. It is a basic tenet of the Torah that we too can change.  We went through an emotional Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The basic message of these holidays is that man can change. This is what I’m thinking about this Shabbos; this is what I’d like us all to think about this Shabbos. What do we need to change about ourselves? What do we need to change about our relationships? What do we need to change about our Shul? What do we need to change about our community? What do we need to change about the world?

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