Vayeilech (Deuteronomy 31:1-30)/ Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Chewbacca is one of only just a few of his kind, the Wookies, not held a slave to the Galactic Empire. A weight like this could excuse any mortal creature for living a solitary, distressed life. Chewie though takes a page from last week’s lesson in hope. This humble creature instead of pity, binds himself to those in his life and maintains an unwavering commitment to them. This commitment goes beyond just to his oldest friend Han Solo, who recent literature explains he feels he owes more than just friendship to, but to Luke, Leia, and even C-3PO, as a particularly tender scene, and really the entire limb-losing debacle on Cloud City, beautifuly illustrate. When Han goes out into the frigid night on Hoth in search of a missing Luke, there is a particular moment that expresses perhaps the most powerful instance of humility in the entire film. Upon the closing of the shield doors to the Rebel base which completely locked his two dear friends out in the frozen wilderness for the duration of the night, Chewbacca lets his head fall in a deep, expressive sorry and anxiety. Chewbacca humbles himself to his emotions and allows them not only to be felt, but to be shared with those around him.
Moses has been told repeatedly by God for some time now that his life will be coming to an end before the Israelites arrive in the Promised Land, and that this time is nearing. The greatest piece of humility in this portion is an admission that Moses expressed to all of his people. In just the second verse of the parsha, Moses concedes “I can no longer be active.” Like Chewbacca, Moses in this moment admits mortality. Moses could have simply said that he is nearing the end of his life, as he has done many time already, and left its implications to be interpreted. He could have gone quietly away and made no attempt to express anything regarding the pending transfer of leadership. He even could have ensured the Jewish people that his leadership will carry with them even in his death as a figurative comfort to his people. Instead, Moses specifically choses to state his position in reality. He humanizes himself. As the leader of his people especially, the weight of Moses’s public acceptance of fate serves to model that it is perfectly okay to share how you feel.
The essence of humility is opening yourself to others and allowing them to know your emotions. There is no expectation they understand, reciprocate, or even necessarily acknowledge your emotion, merely that they are aware you are expressing them. Showing your emotions can leave you vulnerable in a way that may at first seem like a discomfort, but more importantly, it will leave you relieved and allow you to be more aware of your emotional state. This exercise is not restricted to negative feelings, for showing your excitement may be just as challenging as sorrow in some instances. To live more free, we all need the humility to share how we feel at any given time.
The Force is a mysterious power that we still learn more about all the time. One thing for certain is that for Force sensitive beings, their emotions are deeply connected to either the Force itself or their ability to connect with it, or both. It is said that the Dark Side of the Force, which we are led to believe is inherently evil, is fueled by negative emotions, and all the opposites for the Light Side. In Christie Golden’s canon book Dark Disciple, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi is described as “adept at concealing his emotions in the Force,” (23). Myriad interpretations could follow this line, but the one I prescribe to is that a Jedi, or a user of the Light Side of the Force, is not designed to be an emotionless being, as many of the Jedi we know, particularly during the Prequel era, would have us understand. Rather, Jedi have lost their emotional humility. They foolishly believe that the best use of their emotions is to conceal them in the Force and never express them aloud. They contradict themselves by requiring compassion in order to defend people, but fear that emotions lead to the Dark Side of the Force. What truly leads to the Dark Side is not emotion itself, but an unwillingness or inability to recognize and accept emotion.
One of many marks of a bad leader is one who does not prepare for a future where they no longer lead. A deep humility is necessary to both be effective in your time, and supportive of those who can be or will be your successor. Ideally, each new leader will have learned all they can from those who came before them, as well as their own experiences in order to be an even better leader for the sake of those they lead. Moses has humbly accepted that Joshua will be the next leader of the Jewish people and does all he can to prepare him. Unfortunately, in the end of this chapter, so near to the end of the Torah, Moses lacks the humility to trust in Joshua and his ability to lead. He lacks the humility to trust the Israelites to follow in the right path, perhaps because just earlier in the portion God expressed this same fear, and exclaims that when he is dead, he is confident everybody will forget what he has taught them and turn away from the God that freed them from Egypt and from the commandments instructed to them.
Moses’s lack of trust in his people and the Jedi’s lack of trust in their emotions are indicative of the same problem so many of us face: humility. Humility is the ability to reconcile our flaws by trusting in ourselves nonetheless. As leaders, there are countless moments where perhaps we could have led or taught better. As emotional beings there are countless moments where we could have acted differently and felt or used different emotions as a result. Crucial is not to allow these personal dissatisfactions mar our ability and willingness to continue to lead or continue to feel. The moment we allow disappointment to incapacitate our leadership is the moment we truly fail as leaders. It is not the moments where we retroactively wish we could do better that mark our success, but how it is we can learn from those moments for ourself and our posterity to succeed more in the future. The moment Jedi cease to express emotion is the moment they become out of touch with how they feel. We have to show emotion ourselves if we hope to understand emotion, for our own sakes and for the sake of holding compassion for others. Force users do not turn to the Dark Side when they express emotion, they turn to evil when they lack the humility to cope with emotion and are thus susceptible to emotional manipulation.
Another truth should also be examined as Moses in this parsha seems to contradict himself between his initial coming to terms with mortality and his harsh fear the Israelites will betray his legacy. While the aforementioned lack of humility remains true, he does maintain his humility in that Moses shares this fear at all. Had he not, he may well have taken action based on those emotions that nobody around him would be able to explain. Now that he has put forth his sentiment on the matter, he has opened room for discussion and to receiving help in assuaging these fears. This here is the wonder of critical reading. Two contradicting truths on the same subject can simultaneously lie within the same instance and still be equally as true.
May we all find the power and humility in ourselves to admit when we no longer have the strength. May we also have the power and humility to admit when we are more full of strength than we have ever felt. If being humble requires us not to brag, let us recognize that bragging is not about the words we use, but the intention behind them of artificially places ourselves above others through these words. Finally, may we have the power and humility to not only share our emotions in single and isolated moments, but as a lifelong practice and way of living.