Before I had my first child, my older and wiser sister told me that being a parent was “one long letting go.” I have passed that wisdom on to other about-to-be mothers, for truly it has became my mantra these many years as I watched my children grow. The first time I heard my eldest child sing a song I hadn’t taught her, I repeated “one long letting go.” Just last week, when that same eldest child rented an apartment I had never seen, I repeated to myself, “one long letting go.”
We each handle the letting-go part differently. Some parents use a lot of words reminding their children what they’ve done for them. That’s Moses’ approach. Moses spends a lot of time in Eikev¸ this week’s parasha (Torah portion) reminding the people all he’s done for them. Specifically, he brings up the time when, after the whole Golden Calf debacle when God was ready to destroy the entire nation, “…I lay prostrate before Adonai those forty days and forty nights…I prayed to Adonai and said, ‘O Adonai, do not annihilate Your very own people…(Deut. 9:25-26). And it worked. God let the people survive to screw up another day. But that’s another story.
Moses was the mediator par excellence. He pleaded for the people, fought for the people, exhorted them to do the right thing, and yelled at them when they didn’t. He guided and cajoled, led and pushed. He took them as far as he could, and then he had to begin letting go. He knew he couldn’t join them in the Land, just over the Jordan. He had to begin separating himself from the people, and give them the confidence they needed to lead themselves, without him. That’s what Deuteronomy is: one long letting go.
And so he said, “And now, O Israel, what does your God Adonai demand of you? Only this: to revere your God Adonai, to walk only in divine paths, to love and to serve your God Adonai with all your heart and soul, keeping Adonai’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good.” (Deut. 10:12-13)
Basically, Moses is saying that if you follow the path God and I have laid out for you, you’ll be okay. God gave you the laws, I passed them to you so you could understand them, and now they’re yours to follow. If you do that, if you keep God in your hearts and in your minds, you’ll do fine.
Moses could get them to let go by reminding the people that they had all they needed to make a successful go of it in this new Land. And the core idea of the whole thing was that they didn’t need him anymore. They didn’t need him as an interpreter of God’s words, or a mediator between them and God. The Torah was theirs now, to love and follow. He had given them the ultimate “letting go”: permission to follow and engage with the Instruction on their own. If they had questions, well, they were just going to have to figure it out for themselves. Don’t worry, he said, you’ll find your way.
What a gift Moses gave us that day, one we still revel in. It is our Instruction, our Torah and each of us has the permission – no, obligation to keep engaging with it, making it mean something to our own lives. Back then, God’s presence was quite palpable. Those standing at the edge of the Land were only one generation removed from the quaking mountain. We’re so much further away, yet if we keep what Moses said in our hearts, we can close the gap a little. All we have to do is walk in divine paths, keep our hearts and souls filled up with holy awareness, and keep/guard/engage with those remarkable words.
Moses knew that this was his way of letting go, that the people would never see another like him, but more importantly, they wouldn’t need another like him. Just as we wish the long letting-go of our children (hopefully) involves still hanging on a little while they make their own choices and decisions, so Moses hoped that the Torah would provide a connection to God, while they took those words and make their own choices and decisions. And even with all the false starts, poor choices, doubling back and starting over….it’s working.