Barred from Entering Israel

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s parsha, Va’etchanan, begins with Moshe recounting his heartfelt prayer that Hashem would permit him to “cross the Jordan” and enter the Holy Land with the rest of the Nation. G-d had decreed that, due to his sin at the “Waters of Contention,” he would die in the Wilderness and not fulfill the great mitzvah of “Yishuv Haaretz” (dwelling in the Land). This was a severe blow to Moshe, who seemed unable to come to terms with it. He continued to petition Hashem for a reversal of this verdict until he was told, in no uncertain terms, “Do not speak to Me any further on this matter.”

Moshe’s fate illustrates the absolute justice of G-d’s ways. He plays no favorites, and even those closest to Him come under harsh scrutiny. Indeed, the greater the level of the person, the higher the standard that he is judged by. Rabbi Soloveitchik said that Moshe’s sin would not have drawn such a harsh punishment, had it been committed by a lesser person. However, due to the Moshe’s exalted spiritual level, he could expect no quarter.

Still, the nature of the punishment is difficult to comprehend. Why did G-d choose to bar him from the chosen Land? Certainly the Creator could have found another way of punishing Moshe. The Rabbis ask, “Why did Moshe have such a great desire to enter the Land? Did he long to taste its delicious fruits? Surely that cannot be the case!” The Rabbis conclude that there were many mitzvot contingent upon dwelling in the Land, and Moshe longed for the opportunity to perform these unique commandments.

Moshe’s attitude toward mitzvot should inspire us all. His fervent desire to be given the opportunity to perform additional commandments comes as a surprise. Our reaction is to wonder that someone who had reached such a high level of perfection would feel that he “didn’t have enough merits.” Yet Moshe did not have an exalted view of himself. He was the humblest of men and was not complacent about his spiritual level. He wanted to seize every opportunity to reach a higher plane by fulfilling more commandments.

Every Jew should seek to emulate the example of our great teacher. We should never be content with the knowledge and deeds we have attained and should always maintain an attitude of enthusiasm for the opportunity to perform more good deeds and to reach greater spiritual heights.

This intensifies the question we have raised. If Moshe wanted to enter the Land for such a noble purpose, why did Hashem foreclose any further discussion of the matter? In recounting the sin of the spies and the nation’s refusal to arise and conquer the Land, Moshe says, “G-d became angry with me also, saying ‘You too shall not enter there.’” Moshe was thus included in the decree that the generation of the Exodus would die in the Wilderness. 

It is true that Moshe’s fate was sealed by his failure to sanctify Hashem at the Waters of Contention; however, that sin was also triggered by the quarrelsome agitation of the people. It was the will of G-d that the generation that left Egypt and which, despite all the miracles they had witnessed, could not summon the courage to fight for the Land, should die in the Wilderness. Their fate would serve as a lesson for all future generations about the consequences of a lack of faith in G-d’s promises. 

Moshe was an inextricable part of that generation. He was their leader and teacher, whose task was to transform them, through Torah, from a band of slaves into a “kingdom of priests and holy people.” He had brought them a long way, but had not been able to completely erase the effects of Egyptian servitude. Ultimately, the sinful behavior of the people took its toll on Moshe and caused him to sin. Moshe was totally identified with the people he brought out of the Wilderness, but could not lead into the Promised Land. Both he and his people had to share the same fate. 

The lesson for posterity is that rebellion against Hashem has consequences. Because they could not overcome their fear and trust that G-d would vanquish their enemies, the people did not deserve to inherit the Land. Because they failed to appreciate the greatness of Moshe and provoked him to the point of sin, they lost the greatest leader anyone could have. 

The Rabbis say that, had Moshe led the Jews into the Land, he would have built the Holy Temple, and it would never have been destroyed. However, the Jewish people, due to their sins, did not merit this benefit. We can now understand how important it is to appreciate our authentic Torah leaders, to listen to them, learn from them, and work together to lead the Nation to its ultimate redemption.

Shabbat shalom.