The Final Blessing

Moses gives his last speech to his people.

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Civil Rights

The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. invoked the scene on Mount Nebo in the famous speech he delivered in Memphis the day before he was assassinated (1968). He said: "Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land" (I See the Promised Land," April 3, 1968).

This speech turned out to be Dr, King's last. Like Moses, his final words were a blessing for justice and peace in the service of God. This legacy of hope and vision of who we can and must become urges us on, reminding us of the dreams that remain for us to actualize.

Whenever we finish a book of the Torah in the synagogue's cycle of readings, those who are present respond immediately with three words: Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek! Be strong, be strong [in the singular] and we will be strong [in the plural]." My late father, Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, taught: Why do we say chazak twice, when once would be enough? It is to tell us that if you and I each are strong, then together we are even stronger. In other words, this is a true "win/win" situation: I need you to be strong so I can be strong too.

My father's lesson is especially true for the Jewish people today. As Jewish women, we need to be strong so that we can experience and contribute to the fullness of our Jewish tradition. Women's entry into the leadership of Jewish life and their involvement in every aspect of communal, religious, and intellectual life is the blessing of the last 30 years. Women have opened new vistas, introduced innovations in every vital sphere of Jewish living, and empowered themselves and their daughters and granddaughters. The Jewish world has been profoundly reshaped: yet there is still a way to go.

Future generations of women must continue to redefine family and work, renew ritual, scale new horizon s of scholarship, write liturgy and poetry, and make music, all the while recreating the Jewish community and its structures. The Jewish people can only be strong when it embraces all of its members; it takes the involvement of both Jewish women and Jewish men to make our community fuller and more vibrant.

Thus, the reading of the Torah ends with blessings and the charge to strengthen ourselves and our community. Moses teaches us to reach for blessings for ourselves and others, to strive for the humility to know our task, and to dream of how to transform what is to what can be.

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Rabbi Naamah Kelman-Ezrachi

Naamah Kelman-Ezrachi is the Dean of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion campus in Jerusalem.