This week’s Bible readings are absolutely extraordinary. In Deuteronomy, we have a song from Moses on the last day of his life. In II Samuel, we have King David’s song at the end of his life. What do these two great figures teach us in their final words?
Perhaps the most poignant lesson Moses teaches is that it is never too late to get right with others and with God.
Recall the Bible story in which God punished Moses for striking the rock instead of speaking to it to draw water. Because of this, Moses would not be allowed to accompany the people into the land. So, what does Moses do now in his final oration? He speaks before God, the great Rock. And, in doing so, Moses draws forth the very finest water for the people.
What’s the water he draws with his speech? It is, I think, the living nourishment of guidance that quenches our thirst, mostly, to live a good life, in righteousness and love.
How does the water flow? It flows in ways that can sustain each and every one of us. For the young and those new to it, the water comes gently as soft rain or dew. For those, like growing grass, who are ready for more, it comes as a steady rain. And for those who are the most firmly rooted, as sturdy trees or strong vegetation, it comes in pelting, penetrating showers.
David, too, sees God as his Rock, but the emphasis for him is as his “Fortress,” his “Rescuer,” the “Horn of his Salvation.”
For David, God was the One Who illuminated and saved him from his darkness. What was David’s darkness? It was, at one level, the many midnights of fear that he experienced in combat with his physical foes. But, surely, too, it was the foreboding and shadows that haunted him as a consequence of his misdeeds with Uriah and Bathsheba.
As with Moses, David suffered consequences for wrongdoing, but he never stopped serving God and his community, living his days in righteous words and acts.
For those who have just completed the experience of Yom Kippur, these timely stories of Moses and David may help us better understand that day’s very difficult Unetaneh Tokef prayer.
This prayer doesn’t pull punches. We all will face the pain of death and loss, and likely not at a time of our choice. But the prayer concludes in uplift: we have the power to choose how we live, that is, the character we bring to the decisions and actions we make in life, and there’s great importance to the choice.
In Hebrew, specifically, teshuva (turning), tefillah (prayer), and tzedakah (righteous giving) can avert the sting of fate. We’re called to turn back to the correct course, with prayer and gratitude, and service to others and God in righteousness and generosity.
Aren’t these the very qualities Moses and David model for us? Indeed their living out these qualities is what truly endures beyond death, as a blessing for them and the generations that follow.