Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her classic “On Death and Dying” wrote of the stages people go through in the process of dying. In the final stage of Kubler-Ross’s model, the dying, if they are successful, move from resignation to acceptance of the impending end of their life. Resignation means that one recognizes that his/her death is inevitable. S/he is no longer fighting the reality or denying it. But nonetheless the death feels like a betrayal, like something that should not be. Often in a state of resignation the dying become depressed and withdrawn. Acceptance is a step further in the process and the final stage, if one is able to achieve it. To accept one’s dying is not to want it, nor is it to welcome death. Rather acceptance is the embracing of the reality as part of the story of one’s life. While undesirable, it can no more be changed than can one’s height or parentage. To accept one’s death is no different than to accept the limitations of one’s life. It is part of who one is. In the stage of acceptance one dies at peace and in touch with both family and community
At the close of this week’s parsha we read that G-d tells Moshe to climb the mountain of Nebo in order that there he may die. We know Moshe did not want to die. He fought for the right to enter the Promised Land. He begged G-d over and over to forgive him his one sin and allow him to cross the Jordan with his people. Over and over G-d said “no” to Moshe, culminating in this, G-d’s last instructions to our beloved teacher. Did Moshe reach the stage of acceptance before he died? Did he come to terms and embrace the reality before him or did he simply resign himself to the inevitable.
The answer is right here before us in the text. What does Moshe do before he dies, indeed on the very last day of his life? He sings the song of Ha’azeenu. Moshe gathers all the people and engages them. One does not sing if one is resigned to death. Nor does one gather the community if one has merely surrendered. Moshe, fought. He fought valiantly. In the end he accepted. And in that acceptance he made his dying something that proved a blessing for all Israel.
Truth is when it comes time to accept our reality and we do, rather than continue to deny it or resist it, we have the possibility of new blessings, one previously unrecognized.
Look at the story of Moshe. In one way he was defeated. G-d did not acquiesce to his petition. According to tradition, Moshe was prepared to enter in any way possible. He was willing to surrender the leadership to Yehoshua and enter as a member of the Community of Israel. He was willing to strike any bargain. In all cases the answer was “no’. Yet when Moshe finally comes to accept, as evidenced in this week’s parsha, he finds that the “no” does not mean exactly “no”. It just means “no” to the way he was asking.
What do I mean? Well take a look at the verses. G-d tells Moshe “Go up to this Mount of Avarim, the Mountain of Nebo that is in the land of Moab…and gaze upon the land of Canaan that I am giving to the Children of Israel for an inheritance….” And then look at the verse at the end of next week’s reading of Zot Habracha. There, even as Moshe is told he must die in the wilderness, he is also granted a form of entry into the land. Hashem invites him to see the land in its entirety, the hills and the valleys, the rivers and the streams, from one end to the other. While its true Moshe may not enter the land bodily, his eyes are permitted to enter. After granting Moshe the eyes to see the land in all its grandeur G-d says to Moshe, “You have seen it now with your eyes even though enter you shall not.” Through his eyes Moshe becomes one with the land of his yearning. Yet that form of entry was not possible for Moshe to experience until he accepted his death on the other side of the Jordan. Only once he stopped resisting and moved past his resignation could Moshe know the blessing that was there for him to claim.
In our lives too, so many times things happen to us that we struggle to accept. We simply refuse to embrace that which feels unwelcome. And then, when we can no longer deny or combat the reality, we resign ourselves to our fate with a shrug. We feel our circumstances are unwelcome but “what can I do”. The problem with that attitude is that as long as we feel resigned to our fate rather than embracing of it we will not be able to extract the blessing the story has in it for us. We will not reap the gift that even that which we did not want to happen has to give us, often a blessing and a gift that is precious and sweet. We will not even know there is a gift or blessing that we can claim in the situation until we move from resignation to
If there is a more powerful truth to enhance the quality of our life I cannot imagine what it may be. The lesson from Moshe, is that in acceptance we get answers that neither denial, nor bargaining, nor anger, nor resignation, the prior stages of Kubler-Ross’s model, will yield. In acceptance of our fate we not only know the peace and belonging we forgo in our prior stages, we also receive a gift, that while
perhaps not what we wanted, is satisfying in its own way.
May we all be inscribed and sealed for a wonderful new year!