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(Moses) said to them, "Today I am a hundred and twenty years old and I am not able to go out and come in, for G-d said to me, 'You shall not cross this Jordan' " (31:2).
As Rashi points out, Moses did not say that he suffered from the disabilities associated with old age, for elsewhere the Torah itself (34:7) testifies that he was still as vibrant as ever. "I am not able" therefore meant "I am not permitted by G-d".
This comment about Moses' youthfulness in his even extreme old age could help to explain the following apparent contradiction.
In Psalm 92 it states: A righteous man will flourish like a date palm… planted in the House of G-d… they will flourish… they will still be fruitful in old age, vigorous and fresh they will be… (Psalms 92:13-15). However in Pirkei Avot, extreme old age is looked on less favorably… at the age of a hundred he is as if he is nothing, and already passed from the world (Avot 5:24).
This contradiction could be resolved in the following way. A person who progresses through life in a positive and meritorious, but unexceptional way will pass through the various stages as mentioned in Avot (…at thirty one reaches full strength, at forty for understanding, at fifty for council, at sixty for old age…). But a very few outstanding, exceptional people with a powerful sense of mission - guided by the Almighty - will continue to "produce fruit even into old age". They will remain youthful, productive, and creative long past "retirement age" - and they will still be able to keep up with the world in which they live, all the time using their ever-increasing experience to make it a better place. Indeed some of us can recall outstanding Torah personalities (as well as special individuals in beneficial, creative fields) who reached their peak in their seventies and beyond…
Moses was the arch example of that type. As a true Eved Hashem (servant of G-d) (34:5) he directed the spiritual metamorphosis of the Israelites into a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation (Exodus 19:6)…
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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