Experiencing Life's Harsh Boundaries
Experiencing Life's Harsh Boundaries
By Rev John T. Schwiebert, ThM
“This Is Enough for You!” I am indebted to Rabbi Maurice D. Harris for pointing out these words, spoken by God to Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy (Deut. 3:26) (see Harris’ excellent book, Moses, a Stranger Among Us).
The words (a translation of the Hebrew words rav lach) are spoken in the context of Moses’ grief because of his not being allowed to cross over into the promised land after spending 40 years leading and preparing the Israelite people to do so. Having already been told by God that that he will not be among those crossing the Jordan, Moses nevertheless begs for reconsideration:
“Then I pleaded with the Eternal at that time, saying: ‘O Eternal God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand, for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do anything like Your works and Your mighty deeds? I pray, let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.’
“But the Eternal was angry with me . . ., and would not listen to me. So the Eternal said to me: ‘Rav Lach! This is enough for you! Speak no more to me of this matter. Go up to the top of [Mount] Pisgah, and lift your eyes toward the west, the north, the south and the east; behold it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. But command Joshua, and encourage him and strength him; for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which you will see.’”
What person facing a great loss has not issued a similar plea for a different outcome, but to no avail?
“God, please don’t allow my child to die.” “God, please don’t let me be one of those who become unemployed when the company downsizes.” “God, please let my cancer treatment succeed.”
But then my child dies anyway. Or I am one of the first to get a pink slip and , I have no prospect for a new job and I’m still 3 years away from eligibility for Social Security. Or the cancer has spread, and the prognosis is not good.
In such circumstances it is tempting for us to wonder if God is punishing us for some wrong we have committed, or to suppose that God is somehow indifferent to our passionate appeals for a better outcome. But it’s much more likely that neither of these suppositions is true, and that we have simply come up another of life’s harsh realities—a barrier or boundary that we cannot get beyond and that not even God can change.
In such a situation perhaps the clearest message we need to hear from God is Rav Lach! This is enough for you. You don’t need any more than you already have, even though what you are losing is extremely precious to you. You have suffered a devastating loss, of course, and it is a hard thing to have to bear. And I, God, am grieving with you. But life is like that sometimes.”
The real challenge is not to wish for and plead for a different outcome, but to look beyond the loss that now that seems so impossible to bear, and to discover the new possibilities that lie beyond the tragedy. If you trust God, you may also discover a new role that you will be called upon to play in the different future that is unfolding for you.
For example, in the passage from Deuteronomy cited above, Moses was challenged to encourage and strengthen his successor Joshua.
In a similar way I have seen parents who, after losing their child to a rare disease, reached out to other parents who were facing a similar loss. And I have heard of persons who, after grieving the loss of job they loved, found other, even better, paths to happiness and economic security.
The point is that, although we may never get over our losses, we can get beyond them!
And God’s peace be with you!