I was talking to a new friend today who - while healthy and strong - is designing ways to close up his affairs so that things are tidy when he goes. Both he and I imagine he has many years left, but tidying up is the sort of thing you want to do when it still feels optional.
The problem, he confessed, is that in planning too much and tying things up too well, he was fearful that he would outlive his dreams. He had run a most successful business but retired from that 20 years ago. His most active days in non-profit organizations are behind him. He founded and runs a foundation, but he is “spending that down,” determined to give all the money away, so that it too will end before he does.
He’s always prided himself on being the sort that manages things well and responsibly. But now, with all his careful planning properly in play, he fears he may have more time than dreams. Then what?
Not that he doesn’t have ideas - he has them aplenty. His mind and desire to help those in need and in pain are as sharp as ever. But how could he begin something he cannot finish?
It was then we spoke a bit about Moses. I had always thought it achingly unfair that Moses would suffer through the lonely pangs of leadership and not realize the fulfillment of his dream; that he would be called to carry the Jewish people 40 long years in the wilderness to the very threshold of the land of Israel yet not be able to enter it. Where is the fairness in that? How is it right that Moses, or we, die before the achievement of our life’s ambitions?
But then, I imagined the opposite. What if we live past our life’s last ambitions? What if we arrive at our destination and feel we are done? Then what?
Which, in other words, is sadder: outliving our dreams or having our dreams outlive us?
The Torah, it seems, has chosen: we should always have dreams that excite us and drive us; we should always have dreams that we may never fulfill.
“It is not ours to complete the task,” our rabbis similarly teach us, “but neither are we free to ignore it.”
The Bekhor Shor, a biblical commentary, reinforces this by teaching that God’s last act of kindness to Moses was taking him up to the mountaintop and giving him a preview of the destiny of his people, what they would encounter, what they would achieve in the years to come, all the way til the end of time.
Do not read “and God showed him the whole land… as far as the Yam Ha-aharon, the Mediterranean Sea, but rather the Yom Ha-aharon, the last of days.”
My friend and I determined it was okay, indeed it was proper, for him to possess the vision, stoke the passion, and lead his people on a journey that he may never finish. Others can carry on after him.
If we are lucky, we will all be so blessed