Moshe Learns to Say Good-bye
One last time
the people will hear from me
one last time
and if we get this right
we’re gonna teach ’em how to say
You and I—
—George Washington in Hamilton: An American Musical
In Parshat Eikev, as is the case in all of Devarim, Moshe and B’nai Yisrael are on the precipice of great change. The Israelites are about to enter the Land. Moshe is about to die. And the mantle of leadership is passing from Moshe to Yehoshuah.
In many ways, Sefer Devarim is one long valedictory. In this parashah, though, Moshe’s wistfulness and anxiety about the people’s future is especially clear. He reminds them of the sins of the previous generation, warns them that disobeying God will lead to punishment, and promises them that doing mitzvot will lead to blessings and abundance. He is afraid about what might become of the People once he is gone.
Because ultimately, Moshe, like Washington, needs to teach the people how to say good-bye. A good leader knows that he must teach the people to not only survive, but also to grow and thrive, without him. The imperative to step away is a hard one, but sometimes it is the greatest act of leadership there can be. We must learn to say good-bye to the things that we know, that are comfortable, and trust ourselves and our communities to keep moving forward. Sometimes, it is only the act of saying good-bye that allows for the creation of a new and more dynamic future. Where will that next journey take us?