Moses, in one of his last talks to the Jewish people sings a song that is both lyrical and enigmatic. One statement stands out among them all. Moses claims that now that he is aged, one hundred-twenty years old, that he can no longer come or go" (Deut. 31:2). In an admission of his waning strength Moses confesses to his people, in effect, that his bones ache and his joints no longer function as they used to. He is old and tired. Not much later, the Torah informs us that “Moses was 120 years old when he died; his eye was not dim, and his force was not abated" (Deut. 34:7). Based on these two psukim, we have to ask, how can Moses be at once old and ailing and vital and energetic?
There is a powerful lesson here about self-deprecation. We can have no doubt Moses was fatigued, weary from many long struggles. He lived through tumultuous and painful times. Orphaned in a reed basket, Moses knew the courts of Pharaoh. He gave up this position of privilege in order to defend his people. The shepherd was then coerced into becoming the great liberator of his people, only to endure hardship and trial through the next forty years. No wonder he was tired!
But it is not fitting for others to tell how weak the aged leader had become. It serves no good purpose to degrade another human being even if we are just agreeing with them! Lashon ha-ra, is often translated as gossip. But what if the lashon ha-ra is really true? It is no defense to the commission of this sin to rely on the fact that the story being told is true. It’s still Lashon ha-ra. The dictate is that negative statements about another person should not be uttered.
Rashi explains that Moshe is, in speaking about his fatigue, is saying that he could no longer interpret Torah and teach it to the people. The wellsprings of Torah had been closed to him. If that is true, then, despite the fact that his physical constitution was still hearty, he considered himself worn out and unable to function as a leader of B’Nai Yisrael. His barometer was not of the worldly realm, it was of the spiritual. If he could no longer transmit learning and lessons of morality, Moshe felt that his time on earth was done.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman