One of the best known and most perplexing passages in the Torah occurs in Parashat Chukat. In Numbers 20:12, Adonai informs Moses and Aaron that they will not enter the Promised Land because they did not place enough trust in Adonai.
For Moses not to enter the Promised Land after forty years of seemingly successful leadership in the wilderness was a severe punishment. Imagine how he must have felt! The rabbis of our tradition stayed up late trying to figure out what transgression Moses had committed to deserve such a fate.
A close reading of chapter 20 reveals that God had instructed Moses and his brother to take a rod, assemble the community, and order a rock to yield its water. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses struck the rock, and he did so twice. He also called the Israelites "rebels" and did the entire job himself without including Aaron, as God had commanded.
We could stop right here, list Moses' many shortcomings (impatience, anger, self-centeredness, lack of faith), and conclude that he did indeed fail to reach his goal.
But that would be a mistake because the deeper truths in this story can help us in our own lives. While Moses was a great leader, he was an imperfect human being, like you and me. He made many of the same mistakes we make.
This was a new generation of Israelites he was trying to lead. He must have felt as if his entire forty years of struggle were a waste. Even God agreed that they needed a new leader to enter Canaan. It was easy for Moses to feel that he had failed.
But the truth is that he was not a failure but a success. If we measure success by whether we leave the world better than we found it, he scored extremely high. If we measure success by how much we have done to strengthen the Jewish people, he was a success without a peer.
The Cunard Steamship Line used to have a motto: "Getting there is half the fun." How we travel the journey of life is more important than the specific destination we reach. In our personal lives, our Promised Land should be neither acquiring a certain amount of financial wealth, nor having the most friends, nor a guarantee that we will enjoy good health.
Moses really did reach the Promised Land. Perhaps he did not actually enter Canaan, but he brought his people right to the edge, and despite his shortcomings, he led a remarkable life.
So it is with us-even if we experience personal loss or disappointment. If we live ethical lives, if we spend enough time with those we love, if we direct our talents and resources to those who need us, if we sanctify our days with Jewish tradition, we, too, can say that we have arrived at our Promised Land.