As the Jewish People approached the borders of Israel, Moshe knew he didn’t have much time left in this world.
It was important to prime the next generation for what would lie ahead. He retold their entire history, as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, a Greek word literally meaning the restatement.
One of the first things he talks to them about is one of the last things he did; just before they got to Israel, he designated sanctuary cities where perpetrators of accidental crimes could flee and find refuge from the strict letter of the law.
Sure, it’s an important law, but why is it a part of his ethics speech at all?
We all have dreams and goals of what we want to achieve and who we want to be. And we procrastinate out of fear of failure or even fear of the reality of our own potential greatness. We doubt we can succeed, and the future seems uncertain. What if we fail? And after all, if we fail, then what’s the point of starting?
This line of thinking handicaps us all the time.
In sharp contrast, Moshe had no doubts about his future – and not for the better. He knew with as much certainty as a human could ever hope to have that he would not set foot into the Land of Israel, and he had gone as far as he could, and his time had come.
And he still made plans for a future he knew he would not participate in, a future that only others would ever be able to practice and enjoy.
It’s at the beginning of his ethics speech because it’s one of the most important things a human has to know, and Moshe knew it, which is why it’s at the beginning of his last public address, imploring the people to uphold good ethics to build a future that would last.
We may not have accomplished what we set out to do; we may not have gotten where we thought we ought to be by now. But if there is something available to you to do, just do it.
Don’t do it to succeed, do it because it’s the right thing to do, and do it even if it’s only a step in the right direction.
The future is a commons that is best cared for in the present.
You are a steward of the future whether you like it or not, and whether you participate in it or not; you are carrying the yoke of the future here and now, today. Every single thing you do, every single day, compounds into the future that materializes – for better and for worse.
The future is sensitive. Deferring progress or responsibility compounds building an inactivity debt that requires a lot of future effort to undo before you can progress.
How many people can give their all to a project they won’t benefit from? Taking care of the future without self-interest is hard, but that’s the mindset Moshe showed us thousands of years ago for a future he would not be a part of.
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.