The Thursday mincha (or, in the winter, ma'ariv) service includes a little mini-sermon (2 minutes or so). The rabbis are away and no one else wanted to lead today's service, so this fell to me. (This is, by the way, the aspect of leading a service that most intimidates me. I'm fine with other people's words...)
These ones are done informally, and reading from something prepared would just be wrong. (Besides, I'm not a good-enough public speaker to make that work.) So this is very approximately what I tried to say.
I have a mug at home with a slogan on it. It says: "God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. At the rate I'm going, I'll never die". A throw-away comment on procrastination to be sure -- but what if it really worked that way?
In this week's double portion Matot-Masei, Moshe is commanded to lead the Israelites into battle against the Midianites and then, he is told, he will die. Talk about an excuse for procrastination! Wouldn't most of us find some reason to put off that conquest under those circumstances, to be able to live a little longer?
Moshe doesn't do that, though. He fulfills the command, promptly, knowing the consequences. I find this remarkable.
One other place in the Torah we learn of someone who hastens to fulfill a command that will surely make him unhappy -- the Akeidah, the binding of Yitzchak. Avraham is told to do something reprehensible, yet he gets up early, loads up the donkey, and heads off with his son to the mountain without any hesitation. Avraham is rewarded; he does not kill his son. Moshe isn't directly rewarded for his obedience.
Well, not in this world, anyway. He earned the status of the greatest of our prophets, and he was presumably rewarded in Olam Ha-Ba, the world to come. You just have to take the long view.
What does any of this have to do with us? We don't teach blind obedience; our prophets and patriarchs argue with God. But, having agreed to serve, they don't sabotage the work, either.
We have a choice to obey or not, but we should stay away from that middle ground. Obey with conviction or object with conviction, but don't just ignore an obligation with the hope that doing so will buy us time. The result of that might be a longer life, if that trick works, but it won't be a more fulfilling one.
Look, it's Matot-Masei; it's not an easy portion. I'll be chanting the part this is based on this Shabbat, so it was undoubtedly on my mind when I had to come up with some part of it to talk about.