It was a nasty time in a nasty place: Ramallah, 1988, at Mutzav Sivan, next to the Arab “refugee” camps of Al Bireh and Al Amari during the first intifada.
After a week of intense action, non-stop patrols, riots, chasing kids throwing rocks, and endless briefings and late night ambushes, I had a few hours to catch my breath and was lying on my bunk with a good book and a bag of Wise BBQ potato chips which my Mom had somehow gotten to me and I had been saving for a quiet moment. It was around 11 am on Thursday, the Arab kids were in school, and the prayers in the Mosques that incited many of the riots were 24 hours away.
Technically I was still the officer in charge of the ready-alert squad (the Kitat Konenut) and thus still on duty with my boots and uniform on, but in the middle of all that chaos I had found a little corner of time and peace and quiet. It lasted about 20 minutes.
Shouts of “Hakpatzah!” meant there was an emergency somewhere and after a minute or less of running, yelling, grabbing gear and grabbing all the guys, I was in a jeep heading towards the main road where a riot had started. And the whole time all I could think of was I had left the chips and my book thrown on the floor next to the bunk and hoped I would get back to finish them.
The riot, caused by two kids being caught by a different patrol throwing rocks, turned quickly into a massive event with hundreds of Arabs including women and children blocking the road where local Jewish residents had to drive, which led to accompanying a truck to the local border patrol holding station which led to an impromptu roadblock all afternoon followed by an evening mission and late night ambush.
When I finally got back to our base the chips and the book were long gone and someone else was sleeping in the bunk reserved for the ready-alert squad. I never did find that book or those chips.
Sometimes, it’s just time to go, even if you’re not ready.
• • •
This week, as Yom Kippur approaches, we read parsha Vayelech, which literally means “and he went.” Strangely, it refers to the final soliloquy of Moshe, on the banks of the Jordan as he bids farewell to the Jewish people and prepares to go to meet his maker.
“And Moshe went and spoke all of these words to all of Israel. And he said to them: I am one 120 years old today and can no longer come and go, and Hashem has told me: ‘You will not cross this Jordan’.” (Devarim 31:1-2)
Moshe is about to die; where is he going? When Miriam dies, as an example, there is no discussion of her going anywhere prior to her death, it simply says she dies. (Bamidbar 20:1) So why does the Torah tell us Moshe is going somewhere?
Rav Moshe Feinstein, in his Darash Moshe, has a fascinating insight: Generally, when a person passes away, and particularly a righteous person, it means they have completed the mission for which they were here in this world. But Moshe did not finish his job; he did not yet bring the Jewish people home to the land of Israel. Thus Moshe is described as a person who is leaving prematurely because Hashem has commanded him: “You shall not cross this Jordan.”
One last time, Moshe is sharing a powerful message: No matter what we think, if we figure out what Hashem is asking of us, then that is what we must do. And we must always be ready to go.
We think we know where we are headed, and we fill ourselves with goals and plans and assume we will do what we set out to do. But this world is a temporary hallway, and the question we must constantly be asking ourselves is, “Am I doing what I think Hashem really wants me to do?”
This Shabbat Shuva prepares us for Yom Kippur, the ultimate Shabbat. We pause to consider where we are headed, and why we choose to go there. And hopefully we commit and open ourselves to being ready to go, wherever we believe Hashem asks us to go.
Wishing all a Shabbat Shalom and a sweet happy and healthy year full of blessings and joy, and a Gemar Chatimah Tovah from Jerusalem.
This column was previously published.