Do What You Can Do

We make the best of plans, but they don’t always pan out (as the Yiddish aphorism goes, “and G-d laughs”). What do we do then?

You drive to the top of the mountain to enjoy the lookout, and it’s closed!  The doctor’s office says, “Come in and we will try to squeeze you in, and they don’t!” What do you do then?

Parshat Vatechanan retells the time when G-d denies Moshe the privilege of entering the Land of Israel. Despite Moshe launching 515 prayers, G-d still says, “No.”

Deuteronomy 3:25-26

אֶעְבְּרָה־נָּ֗א וְאֶרְאֶה֙ אֶת־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַטּוֹבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּעֵ֣בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן הָהָ֥ר הַטּ֛וֹב הַזֶּ֖ה וְהַלְּבָנֹֽן׃ וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר יְוָ֥ה בִּי֙ לְמַ֣עַנְכֶ֔ם וְלֹ֥א שָׁמַ֖ע אֵלָ֑י וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְוָ֤ה אֵלַי֙ רַב־לָ֔ךְ אַל־תּ֗וֹסֶף דַּבֵּ֥ר אֵלַ֛י ע֖וֹד בַּדָּבָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה׃

Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan, that good hill country, and the Lebanon. But G-d said no to me and would not listen to me.

What did Moshe do next?

Deuteronomy 4:41

אָ֣ז יַבְדִּ֤יל מֹשֶׁה֙ שָׁלֹ֣שׁ עָרִ֔ים בְּעֵ֖בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן מִזְרְחָ֖ה שָֽׁמֶשׁ׃

Then Moses set aside three Refuge Cities on the eastern side of the Jordan.

The Talmud comments that when Moshe was denied entry into Israel, he opted to perform a Mitzvah or Commandment that could be done on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. Instead of simply accepting his lot, he decided to “do what he could do” where he was.

What a fantastic life lesson. We may not always be able to fulfill every goal we set out to, but we nevertheless can do the best we can and fulfill a different attainable goal.

Goal setting is a key to success. However, we must adjust our goals when we bump into a proverbial roadblock.



Rabbi Tarfon said it exquisitely in Ethics of our Fathers 2:16:

 לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה

He used to say, “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.” 

In other words, just do what you can do.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Epstein

Community Scholar in Residence