Parshat V’etchanan: Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11; Isaiah 40:1-26. (Shabbat Nachamu)
Moses places an entreaty before the Lord at the end of his life concerning the leadership of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel: He asks that he be allowed “to cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan River” and presumably continue to lead the Israelites.
This entreaty to lead, although not made directly, is implied in God’s response: “You must command Joshua, strengthen him and give him resolve, for he shall cross before this nation and shall bring them to inherit the land” (Deuteronomy. 3:28).
Moses’ request to enter the land is denied. But after all his sacrifices and difficulties with an unwilling and backsliding Israelite nation, does he not deserve to reach his life’s goal?
Remember that when God had originally asked Moses to assume the leadership of the Israelites the great prophet demurred, claiming to be “heavy of speech” (literally, kevad peh). Then the Bible testifies that “the [Israelites] did not listen to Moses [about leaving Egypt] because of impatience and difficult work.”
Most commentators explain that the Hebrews were impatient and had no energy to resist their slavery. But Ralbag (1288–1344) explains this to mean that it was because of Moses’ impatience with his people (the Hebrews) because of his (Moses’) difficult work in making himself intellectually and spiritually close to the Divine.
Moses was into the “heavy talk” of communication with God and receiving the divine words. He did not have the interest or patience to get into the small talk, the necessary public relations of establishing personal ties and convincing each Hebrew that it was worthwhile to rebel against Egypt and conquer the Land of Israel. He was a God-person, not a people-person or even a family-person.
In the final analysis, why was the prayer denied the greatest leader in Jewish history? Apparently, it is because the very source of Moses’ greatness — his lofty spirit and closeness to God — was what prevented him from getting down to the level of his congregation and family to lift them up. Moses succeeded like no one else before or after him in communicating God’s word for all future generations; but he did not do as well with his own generation.
In addition, perhaps Moses’ request was denied in order to teach us that no mortal, not even Moses, leaves this world without at least half of his desires remaining unfulfilled. And perhaps he was refused merely to teach us that no matter how worthy our prayer, sometimes the Almighty answers “no” and we must accept a negative answer.
Faith, first and foremost, implies our faithfulness to God even though at the end of the day, He may refuse our request.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.