God’s last words to Moses were that he would not enter the promised land. And then there was silence, a terrible silence. The Children of Israel marched and the desert shook and the sand stirred in the wind … but the heavens did not speak, and that is the only silence that matters. From the head of the marching column a song rose up, a song of praise, wailing devotion that 50 years in the desert had ended, and the children of the children who had been born in this time of exile leapt into the air and twirled harmonies as they stepped, stepped, stepped, towards a waiting river. The desert’s end was in sight.
Moses turned his back on the promised land, now that it was forbidden him, and walked to the top of a sand dune, his staff sinking into the dust, grit rubbing between his sandals and his feet. From this vantage, 50 feet closer to the sun, he watched the 12 tribes dance towards their future. His beard, a symbol to us all of his wisdom and profundity, pulled his chin down.
Moses would ask me, after, why I chose to turn from the dance and follow him up the hill. Why I chose to stay with him instead of reaching my destination. Every step I had taken for all my 30 years of life had been towards that promised land. I told him it was because God was unjust. I told him it was because I would not leave a holy man alone with his sorrow: I told him it was because I believed that even the tears of Moses are an oasis in the desert.
And it was true, and Moses fell asleep with his head in my lap, my fingers running through his long white hair. But it is also true that I was born in diaspora, and that when I look at the promised land I see nothing but promises. I will keep walking until there is no more north, and listen to the stories of Moses, and the bitterness of the man who looked on the face of God and brought us his commandments, and count myself lucky.
Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media, Playboy.com, and NPR among other venues. He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.
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