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V’zot HaBeracha

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10/05/2012

Dan Horwitz photo

We’ve reached the final portion of the Torah – V’zot HaBeracha. On the holiday of Simchat Torah, Monday night and Tuesday, we read this portion, and immediately following, we read a section of the portion of Bereshit – the first portion of the Torah – in order to symbolize the never ending nature of our learning. In V’zot HaBeracha, Moses offers a blessing to the Israelites before his death, as they prepare to cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land, without him, under the leadership of Joshua.

Upon concluding his blessing, we learn that Moses ascended a mountain, looked out over the Promised Land that he was not permitted to enter, and passed away. The portion tells us that it was God who buried Moses, and that as a result, no one knows exactly where he was buried. We also learn that Moses was 120 years old when he died (one of the reasons it’s customary to shout out ‘ad me’ah v’esrim!’ – until one hundred and twenty!’ at Jewish birthday celebrations). We learn that the Israelites mourned Moses for 30 days, and we find the quote in the header above – that “never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses…”

What is it to live 120 years?

Is it quantity or quality that counts?

Many of us have been to a sushi buffet where we remark, “I actually don’t need a buffet – I’d rather have less sushi and have it be of a higher quality.” Even if we don’t say it at the time, a couple hours later we usually get to that point.

How do we live lives of meaning and purpose, regardless of how long we’ll be here for?

I know some people in their late eighties and nineties who are dieting. At some point, doesn’t it become okay to eat cheesecake whenever you want?

Are there Jewish secrets to living a long life?

While our tradition doesn’t necessarily have much to say about Omega-3 fatty acids or Acai berries, the ancient rabbis had much to say about what sorts of foods one might choose to eat in order to live a healthy and long life:

“Leeks are harmful for the teeth and beneficial for the intestines.”
“Cabbage is for sustenance and beets are for healing.”
“Woe to the belly through which turnips pass.”
[Berachot 44b]

Others looked to non-dietary matters as playing a part in living a long life. For example, Rabbi Hillel taught: “One who increases Torah, increases life.” [Avot 2:8]

Similarly, we learn in the Talmud: “Rav Yehuda said: There are three things that if prolonged, prolong the years of a person: one who spends a long time praying, one who spends a long time at his dining room table, and one who spends a long time in the restroom.” [Berachot 54a] (Don’t worry – the ancient rabbis explain these three things in a bit more detail in order to make them seem a bit more holy).

However, it’s not just about quantity. Certainly, quantity is nice and can be a blessing; but I would argue that quality plays an even more essential role. To live a long life, but in doing so, to have never truly LIVED is not in step with our tradition. While we’re taught to remember that even in our moments of greatest joy, there are others who are not as fortunate as we are (e.g. stomping on a glass at the close of a Jewish wedding; putting salt on the challah on Friday night), traditional Jewish wisdom encourages us to live, and to live joyously.

We are instructed to rejoice in the Sabbath. [Isaiah 58:13]

We are instructed to rejoice in our festivals. [Deuteronomy 16:14-15]

We are instructed to be joyous when we pray. [Psalms 100:2]

A huge portion of our tradition deals with the quality and joy we experience in life! To focus solely on longevity and to ignore life’s moments is to ignore the very essence of what it is to live a Jewish life.

Hopefully, we will all warrant long lives, with longevity rivaling Moses’s 120 years. Yet, we must admit, longevity is often out of our control. What we can control is how we fill the days we’re blessed enough to have.

Cherish each day.

Take nothing for granted.

Eat cheesecake.

Strive to make sure that your life is lived with joy, with love, and with purpose.

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