Around Town: Pondering 'a liminal moment'

The Jewish High Holidays begin next week with the sound of the Shofar, or ram's horn. Rosh Hashana begins on the evening of Sept. 16. There will be dinners and celebrations. Family gatherings.

The holiday concludes 10 days later on Yom Kippur, a day of repentance and fasting.

Smack in the middle between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur there is a Sabbath service. On that particular Saturday, in synagogues around the world, the parchment scrolls will be rolled open, blessings will be said and the congregation will listen to specific verses. We call those verses “Vayelech,” which means “then he went out.” Many of you call those particular verses by another name: Deuteronomy 31:1-30.

Vayelech tells the story of Moses as he nears the end of his life. Basically, God tells Moses to get his house in order. Those aren't the exact words, but it is the gist of the conversation. Moses is 120 years old. He has been wandering in the desert for nearly 40 years. God tells Moses that he will die.

It is an interesting moment. Moses and the Israelites are on one side of the Jordan River. The Promised Land is on the other. The Israelites will cross. Moses will not.

God tells Moses that he will not enter the Promised Land.

One interpretation is that the generation of slaves needed to die out because even after they were freed from slavery, they were warped by the experience and would never be able to fully embrace freedom. The old generation had to give way to the new, unblemished generation for the experiment to work.

The experiment of freedom.

Moses, of course, began to do what needed to be done. He called the people together. He named a successor. He recorded God's words and laws on parchment scrolls. He gave the scrolls to the priests.

Moses was a model for a way that one generation can give up the reins to the next.

The scheduling of our reading of Vayelech in equally interesting. It is always suspended in the middle of the holiday, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, just as Moses was suspended between life and death.

It's what contemporary rabbis call “a liminal moment.”

The word “liminal” means a threshold, a time just before the situation changes.

Right now, we Americans are on the verge of a liminal moment. We are on the threshold of a generational shift.

Not the elections. Not the campaigns.

In the next two years there will be nearly two million young adults who will leave military service. They will return to civilian life, these veterans of the Long War.

By 2025, many of those veterans will have been elected to office. They will be representatives and senators, mayors and school board members. The baby boomers, by then in their late 70s, will have stepped aside.

There will be a generational shift.

It would be a lot easier if God could talk.

Give up control, God would say. It's time for the next generation.

And the boomers, since they are more spiritual than religious, would say, “not yet!”

Not yet.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.

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