Moses risked G-d's anger to beg to enter the land of Israel - and you?

How much are YOU willing to risk to make Aliyah?

Daniel Pinner

Judaism Line soldiers making aliyah (file)
Line soldiers making aliyah (file)

Parashat Vaetchanan continues with Moshe’s first discourse, his farewell address to the nation whom he so loved.

Last week, in Parashat Devarim, he reminded all Israel of their first disastrous attempt, thirty-eight-and-a-half years earlier, to enter their Land, the attempt which failed because of the sin of the spies.

Then he continued by recapping the much more recent events, the events of just several weeks earlier – their second approach to the Land of Israel, their battles with and victories over, Sihon, king of Amorites and Og, king of Bashan, and their subsequent conquest of the territories of Trans-Jordan.

And this week, in Parashat Vaetchanan, Moshe continues by telling them of his personal story:

“וָאֶתְחַנַּן, I pleaded with Hashem at that time, saying: Hashem, my G-d – you have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your powerful hand; that what other power in the Heavens or the earth can do like Your works and Your might? Please, may I pass over and see the good Land on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon!” (Deuteronomy 3:23-25).

This is Moshe’s one great, heartfelt plea: to cross the River Jordan into Israel.

The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 11:10) records that Moshe prayed 515 times – the gematria (numerical value) of וָאֶתְחַנַּן, “I pleaded” – that G-d permit him to enter the Land of Israel.

And how did G-d respond?

– “Hashem was furious [1] with me because of you, and did not hear me; Hashem said to me: Enough of you! Don’t speak to me about this any more!” (Deuteronomy 3:26).

רַב-לָךְ, “enough of you”, says Hashem to Moshe, dismissing him peremptorily. It is an unexpected term: לָךְ is the feminine form, but since G-d was addressing Moshe, a man, we would have expected Him to use the masculine form, לְךָ. Why לָךְ instead of  לְךָ?

I suggest that G-d was making his dismissal even harsher. Hebrew has a grammatical rule called צוּרוֹת מִשְׁתָּנוֹת, literally “changing forms”, according to which the penultimate vowel in a phrase or sentence is elongated; so at the end of a phrase or a sentence, לְךָ changes to לָךְ, even while remaining masculine [2].

But, as noted, this applies at the end of a phrase or sentence; that is to say, when the cantillation-mark is an אֶתְנַחְתָּ֑א, or a זָקֵף-גָּד֕וֹל, or a סוֹף-פָּסֽוּק (end-of-a-sentence). However, the phrase here is רַב-לָ֔ךְ, with a זָקֵף-קָטֹ֔ן, which cantillation-mark should not (according to the usual rules of Hebrew grammar) change the vowel: God should have commanded רַב-לְ֔ךָ, yet He actually commanded רַב-לָ֔ךְ.

רַב-לָ֔ךְ, “enough of you!”, in the form that the word would normally appear at the end of a sentence, even though this is in the middle of the sentence. G-d was dismissing Moshe, using the form which connotes finality. רַב-לָ֔ךְ, enough of you! This is the end of the sentence! Nothing more to be said!

Yet Moshe Rabbeinu (“our Master”) was willing to risk G-d’s wrath, G-d’s fury, in his repeated pleas and prayers to cross the River Jordan and to enter the Land of Israel.

“‘Please, may I pass over and see the good Land’ – let me pass over as a simple ordinary person, not to lead the nation, just so that I will see this good Land!” Malbim ad loc.).

Moshe was willing to relinquish leadership to his disciple Joshua while he yet lived, so that he could cross the River Jordan into Israel – not as a leader, but as one of the masses.

Why did Moshe yearn so to enter the Land of Israel?

– “Rabbi Simlai [3] expounded: Why did Moshe Rabbeinu yearn to enter the Land of Israel? Did he need to eat of its fruits? Or did he need to satiate himself of its goodness? No, this is what Moshe said: Israel have been commanded many mitzvot, but they only apply in the Land of Israel! Let me, too, enter the Land so that I may fulfil all the mitzvot!” (Sotah 14a).

And so, as Moshe continues, “See – I have taught you laws and decrees, as Hashem my G-d commanded me, to do them in the midst of the Land to which you are coming to inherit” (Deuteronomy 4:5).

Remarkable! Moshe taught us G-d’s mitzvot, “to do them in the midst of the Land to which you are coming to inherit”. Not to keep the mitzvot in the Sinai Desert, or in Babylon or Spain or America or England, but specifically in the Land of Israel which we inherit!

And another few verses on, Moshe will remind us of the Ten Commandments which we had heard directly from G-d forty years earlier, which he will now repeat, which begin with “I am Hashem your G-d, Who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the slave-house” (Deuteronomy 5:6).

The Ba’al ha-Turim (Rabbi Ya’akov ben Asher, Germany and Spain, c.1275-1343) notes that the word הוֹצֵאתִיךָ (“I took you out”) occurs only three times throughout the Tanach: here in the First Commandment, which is a verbatim repetition of Exodus 20:1; and when God told Abraham, “I am Hashem, Who הוֹצֵאתִיךָ  took you out from Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this Land to inherit it” (Genesis 15:7).

And the Ba’al ha-Turim expounds: “Because He brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees to give his descendants the Torah”.

But the Ba’al ha-Turim seems to contradict the simple words of the Torah: G-d says that He brought Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees to give him the Land; the Ba’al ha-Turim says that He brought him out of Ur of the Chaldees to give his descendants the Torah. So which was it – the Land or the Torah?

In fact, the Ba’al ha-Turim shows the intimate connection between the Land of Israel and the Torah of Israel: the one depends upon the other. Just as it is impossible to keep the Torah properly outside of Israel, so too is it impossible for us to inherit the Land of Israel without the Torah.

As the Midrash expresses it: “Let Israel, who are called [G-d’s] possession, come to the Land which is called His possession, there to build the Holy Temple which is called His possession, in the merit of the Torah, which is called His possession…Let Israel, who are called [G-d’s] heritage, come to the Land which is called His heritage, there to build the Holy Temple which is called His heritage, in the merit of the Torah, which is called His heritage” (Yalkut Shimoni, Beshallach 252-253).

This is the reason that Moshe so yearned to enter the Land of Israel. “Please, may I pass over and see the good Land...this good mountain and the Lebanon!”. “‘This good mountain’ is Jerusalem, and ‘the Lebanon’ is the Holy Temple” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai 17:14 and Sifri Bamidbar, Pinchas 134).

The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 11:10) cites Rabbi Yochanan:

“[The Tanach] refers to Moshe’s death ten times: ‘Behold – your day of death draws near’ (Deuteronomy 31:14); ‘and die in the mountain’ (32:50); ‘because I will die’ (4:22); ‘because I know that after my death’ (31:29); ‘how much more so after my death’ (31:27); ‘before his death’ (33:1); ‘at 120 years old he died’ (34:7); ‘and there, Moshe, Hashem’s servant, died’ (34:5); ‘and it happened after Moshe’s death’ (Joshua 1:1); ‘Moshe My servant is dead’ (1:2). This teaches that ten times it was decreed upon Moshe that he would not enter the Land of Israel”.

How much clearer can it be?! Not entering the Land of Israel is equivalent to death! Moshe yearned to live – which meant to enter the Land of Israel! And for this, he was willing to give up his position of leader; for this, he was willing to risk G-d’s burning fury!

And I suggest, in this context, that G-d indeed castigated Moshe measure-for-measure. Moshe, knowing that G-d had decreed that he would never enter the Land of Israel, nevertheless pleaded that “אֶעְבְּרָה, may I pass over”. And in response, “Hashem וַיִּתְעַבֵּר, was furious with me”.

אֶעְבְּרָה and וַיִּתְעַבֵּר; two very different words, with very different meaning, yet both from the same root עבר.

This is what Moshe Rabbeinu was willing to face in his burning desire to live in Israel.

What are YOU, dear reader, willing to face, or to risk, or to lose, in order to live in Israel?


[1] Hebrew וַיִּתְעַבֵּר. Rashi, following Sifri, explains it to mean “He was filled with rage”. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch renders “Hashem turned angrily against me”, since the root עבר denotes “to pass over”, or more loosely “to transform”, “to turn”. Hence he explains that the verb וַיִּתְעַבֵּר denotes “to pass out of oneself, to pass over the border of one’s own inner self, to take a stand against somebody with the whole of one’s personality”. The Malbim (Bi’ur ha-Millot to Psalms 78:49) says that עֶבְרָה, “fury”, denotes a fury which crosses borders, such that the one who is furious will be furious even with those who did not sin. The point is that the verb וַיִּתְעַבֵּר is exceptionally powerful, denoting exceptional fury.

[2] Compare מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ, “We thank You” in the Amidah, and the parallel אֲנַחְנוּ מוֹדִים לָךְ וּמְבָרְכִים אוֹתָךְ, “we thank You and we bless You” in the second Blessing of Grace after Meals. Both use the form which appears to be feminine, even though in these prayers we address G-d consistently in the masculine form.

[3] Rabbi Simlai was a second-generation Amora (3rd century C.E.). He was born in Babylon and made Aliyah to Israel where he lived in Lod (Pesachim 62b), and became the outstanding disciple of Rabbi Yehudah Nessiah (grandson of the famous Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi who compiled the Mishnah).