Moses ascended from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo. About 3,300 years later, I did the same thing. Apparently, they have relaxed the guest standards in those parts.
Tradition holds that Moses, who led the people of Israel out of Egyptian slavery, went to Nebo’s peak to stare down at the land of Canaan. From there, he could see the Dead Sea and the Jordan River valley and the city of Jericho, already ancient.
Moses would behold the Promised Land but not go there, according to Deuteronomy. His deliverance would come in the hereafter.
Standing on that windy summit last year, delivered by bus and not having wandered this barren land for 40 years, I thought about his journey and my own.
I had a hotel room waiting that night in Amman. He had sore feet and deep faith.
The walk through Jordanian customs had been regimented and stressful. At no point, as did Moses, would I have to stand up to a pharaoh.
Above all, I wondered about being within sight of a long-sought destination and not crossing to that place, at least in an earthly way. And I thought about that name: Promised Land.
As a kid, I remember the word “promise” being used a lot. It carried some weight.
Will you do that? “Yeah, I promise,” you’d say.
Parents would advise not to “break a promise” and, when one got broken, there would arise the usual plaint, “But you promised!”
As a Boy Scout, I never remember the oath being called that. We recited “the promise”: “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty ....”
That was a long time ago. Over the decades since, I can’t help believing that promises have been devalued.
Not that most people have abandoned honor. Not that the majority of folks give their word with the intention of forsaking it at the least opportunity.
Just imagine the environment for assurances and all conduct in their aftermath being a little squishy, an unfortunate slippage with the times.
No one has ever traced the lineage of hedging by politicians as a function of their occupation. Doing away with it at this point might throw off the balance of this ecosystem.
(One of the delightful lines in the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” had a rich benefactor quizzing a U.S. representative. “Why is Congress saying one thing and doing nothing?” she asks. The lawmaker replies, “Well, tradition mostly.”)
Americans have entered, with no clear delineation of a calendar, the season of promises. Nothing propagates promises like a campaign.
Democrats have a field of roughly two dozen candidates running for the White House, a roster so extensive that debates had to be split in two, with some hopefuls still excluded.
In a census of that depth, promises become one manner of standing apart from all others, pledges of saving the environment and ending gun violence and infusing health care with ... well, more health care.
President Trump, without much competition on the Republican side, held a rally last week to announce his run for re-election. He said he would cure cancer, cure AIDS and land an American on Mars.
Trouble is, these sorts of rhetorical strains don’t really register with voters, do they? Bombarded by whoppers, they cull the extremes and look for other reasons to vote one candidate or another.
Moses saw the Promised Land, and he got the promise from an infallible source. Bless him in his belief.
We Americans, with our office seekers, can’t muster that faith.