He knew he wouldn’t be there to hold their hand when they crossed that threshold. He had empowered them to reach for greater aspirations, and nurtured them into a people with a mission. Like all good Jewish students, they had badgered him with their questions and demands. Together they had traveled through the Sinai Peninsula towards the land of Canaan. But he wouldn’t be there for the culmination of their journey. Moses said his goodbyes at the border.How does a Moses say goodbye?

How does a Moses say goodbye? What does a leader give to sustain his students for the time when he can’t give anymore? How could Moses capture their incredible journey together, and make it last forever?

A few days before his passing, Moses asked everyone to gather around. Amongst his words of encouragement, he told them the following: “You have seen all that the L‑rd did before your very eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, to all his servants and to all his land: the great trials which your very eyes beheld, and those great signs and wonders. But G‑d did not give you a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear until this day.”1

What did Moses mean by this unusual statement? What did they not know, not see and not hear? For forty years G‑d sent them manna, miraculous food that fell from heaven like rain. How could Moses say that they didn’t know about this miracle, the miracle that had sustained them in the desert? They had certainly seen the food; they had eaten it! And they knew that G‑d helped them in battle, when they defended themselves against militant enemies and won. So what did Moses mean when he told them that up until this point they hadn’t had the heart to know, the eyes to see or the ears to hear?

Maharal of Prague notes that Moses was insinuating that their appreciation of G‑d was deficient. They saw G‑d’s miraculous caretaking, but they didn’t rejoice enough in their good fortune.2

But on that day, something opened up for Moses’ students. Now they had a heart, eyes and ears. They could look back at their pre-Israel experiences and appreciate them in a completely fresh way. Now they had the tools to think with more depth, to see with more insight and precision.

How did the Jewish people come to appreciate the past in a whole new way? What changed? What did they do to deserve this new understanding? To answer, Rashi quotes a passage from the Talmud: “No one can fathom the depths of his teacher’s mind or the wisdom of his studies before forty years.”

Forty years earlier, Moses took them out of Egypt and began teaching them. Now, forty years later, he was letting them enter Israel alone. After forty years of studying with him, they would “graduate” to a new plane of understanding.

Forty is a significant landmark. The Mishnah says that when a person turns forty, he acquires binah, understanding. With binah, one can infer new ideas from the ones he’s learned. The mind works through the logical construct of an idea, analyzing the details, until a more subtle understanding emerges.

Similarly, when a student begins to learn from a teacher, he tries to understand the content the teacher presents. But after forty years of studying with his teacher, there is a shift in his understanding. The student starts to understand not only the content, but the way his teacher thinks—and he can become a teacher himself.

Moses had been a teacher to the Jewish nation for forty years. Now, he said, “For the past forty years, you didn’t really see or understand. But now, just as I leave you, you have the ability to understand with more authenticity. G‑d will give you a heart, eyes and ears to think about things in a new way. Although I won’t be there to guide you in an overt way, I’m asking you to revisit the events of the past forty years and integrate them with greater depth and personal meaning.”

Interestingly, it was the miracles, and not only the teachings, that Moses emphasized: "You have seen all that the L‑rd did before your very eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials which your very eyes beheld, and those great signs and wonders. But G‑d did not give you a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear until this day.”

The miracles may have been awe-inspiring, but they weren’t fully understood. Now they could look at those same miracles and see them!There was more to them than met the eye. The Jewish people lived through them, they enjoyed them, but they didn’t really get them. Perhaps they were too awe-inspired to be contemplative about the miraculous occurrences they saw. Until now. Now, after forty years, they could look at those same miracles and see them!

Seeing miracles with a sensitive heart and eyes of depth means perceiving the message behind the miracle. For in each supernatural experience, G‑d invested a timeless message for personal betterment.

This insight from the Lubavitcher Rebbe led me to reflect on the Rebbe’s own leadership. In 1951, the Lubavitcher Rebbe officially accepted the mantle of leadership, becoming the seventh Chabad rebbe. He began by teaching a chassidic discourse. From that moment on, the Rebbe taught and taught and taught. Shabbat afternoons and holidays meant that the Rebbe would teach for hours. The teachings fused intricate analysis of text with sublime Kabbalistic principles, all culminating with personal application. The Rebbe’s teachings were of the most stimulating and profound nature, compelling people from all walks of life to learn from him. The edited transcripts of his teachings fill over one hundred volumes of books. Then, in 1992, forty-one years after his first official talk as Rebbe, he suffered a stroke that left him unable to speak.

Moses told the Jews that it’s only after forty years of leadership that a student understands the teacher. After forty years, the student has the opportunity to tap into the underpinnings of the teacher’s methodology. Can we apply this to the Rebbe’s teachings as well? Can we say that after over forty years of the Rebbe’s leadership, we, his students, have the opportunity to relearn his teachings with a heart that knows and eyes that see?

In each talk of the Rebbe, there is a specific insight into the topic at hand. But then there are the underpinnings of that insight. What is the Rebbe’s overarching perspective on life’s challenges? How did he view the human condition? How would the Rebbe view this particular person? How would the Rebbe look at me?

And then there were the miracles. “Rebbe, I need a blessing,” began a letter from a pained writer, or a conversation from a person who waited in line to get a dollar from the Rebbe. People came from far and near for the Rebbe’s potent blessings. And the Rebbe’s comments often proved to be shockingly prophetic.

“When I was a young man, I entered the Rebbe’s room. I had no prior appointment; I just slipped in as someone else left the Rebbe’s room,” related a Jew from Canada. “I’d never met the Rebbe. Before I could introduce myself, the Rebbe pulled out a letter from the drawer in his desk and started reading it. A mother was writing to the Rebbe. She had been diagnosed with a fatal illness. Her greatest concern was her children, the youngest of whom was not yet bar mitzvah. She was asking the Rebbe to pray for her children after she’d passed on, that they’d grow to be upstanding Jews. Immediately, I realized that this was a letter from my mother. I was that youngest child who was not yet bar mitzvah when she’d passed on. The Rebbe told me that he rereads my mother’s letter every year before Yom Kippur. Before he blesses the yeshivah students, he reads my mother’s letter.”

How did the Rebbe know who this Jew was, if they’d never met? How did the Rebbe have the letter so accessible, if he received thousands of letters each year? Truly miraculous.

And how do we look at this story with a heart that knows, eyes that see and ears that hear? After forty years of the Rebbe’s miracles, we have the opportunity to see them as personal lessons.

To The Rebbe seemed to treasure this letterme, the letter from the dying mother is the quintessential prayer of every Jewish mother—to have upstanding children, to have kind and sensitive children, to have children who are more conscious of G‑d than of getting ahead in life. Because we never know what the outcome will be, even if we have the opportunity to guide our children.

The Rebbe seemed to treasure this letter, holding it in his desk for many years. Perhaps to the Rebbe, the heartfelt prayer of a Jewish mother was as sacred as a holy book . . .

Every year the Rebbe prayed for this woman’s children, even after they had grown to be adults. Does this perhaps model the awesome sense of responsibility that the Rebbe had for those children who were more vulnerable, who were less privileged?

For those who were not privileged to meet the Rebbe, you are his post-forty-years-of-teaching students. You automatically have a heart that knows and eyes that see. When you learn his wisdom or hear a story of his blessings, stay with it, let your heart wrestle with it, and you’ll see it with new eyes.