Mosaic

GiftOfTheJewsKindleEditionFrom The Gift of the Jews by Thomas Cahill:

To a large extent, the lives of Moshe and his patriarchal predecessors must remain opaque to us, almost as opaque as the lives of our dimmest ancestors, the hominids of prehistory. We know they looked up at the night sky in wonder, wandered ceaselessly with only a vague notion of a destination, and heard the promptings of an inner voice, which they associated with the terrifying marvels of nature. But the harsh and singular specifics of their lives were quite unlike our own, we who can scarcely close our ears to the ceaseless din of modern advertising, who never venture far from the familiar, for whom the night sky, eclipsed by round-the-clock electricity, is no longer a marvel at all.

But in this ending, in the death of Moshe, we can feel a basic human kinship beneath the dramatic differences. The description of the still vigorous old man must recall to us the ancient grandeur of Michelangelo’s Moses, huge-armed, straight-backed, eagle-eyed, who after so many harrowing meetings with God and disappointments with his people can face death without flinching. Michelangelo's Moses We, too, shall die without finishing what we began. Each of us has in our life at least one moment of insight, one Mount Sinai — an uncanny, other-worldly, time-stopping experience that somehow succeeds in breaking through the grimy, boisterous present, the insight that, if we let it, will carry us through our life. But like Moshe or Martin Luther King, though we may remember that we “have been to the mountaintop,” we do not enter the Promised Land, but only glimpse it fleetingly. “Nothing that is worth doing,” wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, “can be achieved in our lifetime, therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; there-we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.” That accomplishment is intergenerational may be the deepest of all Hebrew insights.

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