“Ad me’ah ve-essrim shana” or for those who understand mamaloshen, “Biz hundret un tsvantsig!” Have you ever wondered where this phrase commonly found in birthday greetings wishing a loved one to live until they reach age 120 originates? The answer is found this week as we are treated to a double Torah portion, Nitzavim-Vayelech (As we stand-And then we go out).
The second parshah Vayelech (Dueteronomy 31:1-3) begins*, “Moses went and spoke these things to all Israel. He said to them: I am now 120 years old, I can no longer be active. Moreover, the Lord has said to me, “You shall not go across yonder Jordan.” The Lord your God Himself will cross over before you; and He Himself will wipe out those nations from your path and you shall dispossess them. Joshua is the one who shall cross before you, as the Lord has spoken.”
We learn from these pesukim that Moses was an active leader through the age of 120. What is the Torah teaching us about qualities of leadership? We commonly refer to Moses as Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our Rabbi (or Moses our teacher). Moses exemplifies two important qualities for successful leadership. First, Moses has complete faith. Even though he will not enter the Promised Land, God allowed him to visually cast his eyes upon it. Moses is human and therefore not free from errors of judgment or being swayed by emotion. However, Moses communicates to the Israelites that although the Promised Land is a place inhabited with potential adversaries, God is with them and will protect them. Moses relays this commitment from God to the Israelites with certainty, not leaving any room for doubt.
The second quality possessed by Moses is his keen sense of awareness. In the Torah it was not uncommon to live well past 120 years. It is therefore not a foregone conclusion that it was time to pass on the proverbial torch due to Moses’ age alone. The text itself underscores this point by stating that Moses had been active. Here Moses acknowledges that he can no longer be active in this next phase for the Israelites. Rather than try to hold on to power and delay the Israelites entry into the Promised Land, Moses informs the people that a new leader, Joshua, will take the reigns.
These qualities expressed by Moses are accessible to all of us, faith and awareness. We each have the capacity to focus and sharpen these qualities. Why have we centered our wishes for our friends and family upon Moses? We wish one another that we should all live as Moses did – fully present and active in our lives for all of our years – until we too reach our age 120.
*Translation source: Sefaria