When Tom Brady left the Patriots…the end of an era.
When Oprah left television…the end of an era.
When the Spice Girls broke up…the end of an era.
When MySpace was no longer relevant…the end of an era.
The reign of Bibi Netanyahu….the end of an era.
The death of Moses, Miriam, and Aaron…the end of an era.
In our Torah portion this week, Chukat, we read about the death of Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ siblings; and we read about Moses’ imminent death…the end of an era. The era of this journey began many years prior, a few months after Moses’ birth could no longer be kept secret, his mother sent him in a basket down the Nile River, with Miriam positioning herself to later see him coming down the water’s path. All of this, of course, a carefully planned last shot at keeping Moses safe after the pharaoh’s decree to kill all of the boys born to the Hebrews. This was the beginning of the Book of Exodus, and the prelude to Moses leading the Hebrews (later the Israelites) from slavery in Egypt on a journey toward the promised land.
These are the texts we have been reading for the last many weeks, and now, we have reached the end of an era. Still in the midst of the wilderness, yet with the knowledge that the Promised Land is near, it is here that the last of Moses’ generation begin to end their days. Miriam’s death is quite abrupt. We move from laws about the red heifer straight into a note about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness of Zin at Kadesh on the first new moon of the 40th year. Miriam receives one sentence.
וַתָּ֤מׇת שָׁם֙ מִרְיָ֔ם וַתִּקָּבֵ֖ר שָֽׁם׃
Miriam died there and was buried there (20:1).
The end of an era.
Then it is Aaron, whose death is attributed to his participation in Moses striking the rock for water as well as allowing the Golden Calf incident to occur under his watch. His death receives a few more verses as he places his priestly vestments onto his son Eleazar, he passes on his leadership, and then dies.
וַיָּ֧מׇת אַהֲרֹ֛ן שָׁ֖ם בְּרֹ֣אשׁ הָהָ֑ר
Aaron died there on the summit of the mountain (20:28).
The end of an era.
Finally, Moses, whose death does not occur in this portion, but is foreshadowed after the death of his sister and before Aaron’s death. Here, in our portion, God tells Moses that he will not be the one to lead the Israelites into the promised land, the first hint that he will die without ever setting foot on the land. Then later, at the very end, in Deuteronomy 34, Moses will die. First, Moses saw the land that he led his people to so that the next generation would know its goodness. And then:
וַיָּ֨מׇת שָׁ֜ם מֹשֶׁ֧ה עֶבֶד־יְהֹוָ֛ה
Moses the servant of Adonai died there. There, from the heights of Mount Nebo,
The end of an era.
A timely portion, this Chukat, as the modern-day Israelites of the State of Israel are also feeling a transition of power as Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s title is transferred to the now Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
The end of the Netanyahu era.
For some, this is a welcomed end of an era and for others an upsetting one. He certainly didn't serve for as long as Moses or transition his power in the moments before death; but Bibi, by virtue of being the leader of the State of Israel, was in many ways the face of leadership for the Jewish people for the last 12 years, or at a minimum, he was the face of Israel on the world stage. And this is in addition to his first term from 96-99.
And now, not so different from the passing of leadership from Moses to his protege Joshua, Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s former Chief of Staff, takes on the role as the new face of Israel. He’s much younger, a mere 49 compared to Bibi’s 71 years. He’s considered more right-wing than Bibi, leader of the small ultranationalist party, Yamina. Bennett opposes Palestinian statehood and wants to Annex more land in the West Bank. Yet he says he will never refer to left-wingers as traitors, he says that he wants the country to be able to unite to improve the quality of the lives of its citizens. Behind closed doors, those close to him say he is a pragmatic man. This is a new government unlike any other. Truly, a new era. The coalition is made up of three right-wing, two centrist, two left-wing and one Arab party. There are diverse cabinet ministers as David Horowitz of Times of Israel reports, with an Ethiopian-born minister, former IDF chief of staff, the first openly gay party leader, a minister from the Arab community, ex-army officers, and immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Even a Reform Rabbi holds a chairmanship role. Yes, the Law and Constitution Committee chairman is Rabbi Gilad Kariv. And by the way, the new President, Isaac Herzog, a supporter of the Reform Movement.
Like the ancient Israelites, the Israeli people, and really everyone around the world who are watching closely, we are on edge, unsure of what it will mean to have anyone who isn’t Bibi as Israel’s Prime Minister. Here in America, we have been going through not only a stark political transition of the presidency, but also across the generational spectrum for aspects of our lives other than politics. As baby boomers begin to retire, the power of leadership is passed to the next generations of GenXers and Millennials. Not so dissimilar from the makeup of the newest Knesset coalition, these next generations are more diverse than ever before. With generational change comes new views based on what big events have shaped people's understanding of the world as it is and as they want it to be.
All leaders have their flaws, and few leaders ever have the chance to carry out systemic change in their lifetime, but many leaders have the chance to inspire the next generation to follow in their footsteps and to avoid and learn from their past mistakes. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, none of them were without flaws, and yet they inspired the next generation to carry out God’s plan to enter the promised land, even under new leadership. לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין -- It is not our duty to finish the work, but neither are we at liberty to neglect it (Pirkei Avot 2:16).
We don’t know what successes and setbacks will come from this diverse coalition for Israelis, just as we don’t know what systemic change lies ahead for the American people. No one knows how long the coalition can stay together with their diversity of opinions, but in many ways, the diversity of their opinions is the exact reason that they should work together to create moderate change.
Though it may be the end of an era, reaching the end means the Israeli government has the opportunity to take advantage of a new beginning. Change is scary, but it is also full of potential. Maybe the coalition will last a week...maybe four years. Right now, know one knows for sure. The Israelites weren’t perfect after the era of Miriam, Aaron, and Moses came to an end. But they did progress. They made it to their Promised Land with new leadership, new lessons, and new outlooks. May our modern-day Promised Land find the same.