There’s a period of time in our lives when we balance between telling people how old we are, and not advertising our age. When you’re really young, the “halves” are important; “I’m 9 ½ ” We don’t hear, “I’m 20/30/etc and a half” Sometimes, though, we hear, “I’m 88 ½ years old!” The halves become important again. There are, one hopes, an awful lot of decades in between where we may not be standing on a mountain and shouting our age, like Moses. For women, it is an especially delicate balance. It’s no secret that youth is valued, and billions of dollars in the cosmetic, surgical, and fashion industries are spent, focusing women on staying young, looking young, acting young.
There are built-in big birthdays, like 18 and 21 (get out that new ID, c’mon, I dare you to card me!), and all the ones that end in zero, of course. Each age comes with new responsibilities, but also new awareness that we can’t do what we used to do. Moses says that he isn’t so good anymore with coming and going. The JPS translation is that Moses can no longer be active. Anyone who has tried to get out of a car, get groceries in, bring garbage out, and so many other activities, will relate. I try to spend a lot of spare time in theater productions, and let me tell you, I love those dance rehearsals, but certainly, I can’t dance the way I did ten years ago. God bless the young’uns who do the shows with me; they help me out, and are extremely tolerant!! But let’s face it. I’m never going to tap, flap and shuffle and turn like they can.
In addition to this being the Shabbat of Vayelech, this is Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s the balancing Shabbat, between being written into the Book of Life and getting sealed into it. It’s another year, another moment to tell us perhaps that the things we did last year, we may not be able to keep doing this year. Our coming and our going might get bumpier. But in addition to reminding us that we are held in God’s hands, balancing between t’shuvah, (re-turning, re-pentance) and continuing on our ways that were less than perfect, we balance between coming and going. Are we coming closer to the kind of life that will increase kindness, satisfaction, and generosity, or going back to the life that led to more isolation, sadness, and intolerance? Will we stay active, continuing to come and go, take part and take note? Will we live lives of purpose and meaning, accepting the changes in pace, perhaps, but not in passion?
Moses stayed passionate and active till the end of his life. We should do no less.