By Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski
In this week’s Sedra, Hashem commands Moshe Rabeinu to take revenge upon the Midyanites for His sake. Hashem then tells Moshe that after fulfilling this commandment, he will pass on. Thus, knowing that he is bringing himself closer to his passing on, Moshe Rabeinu immediately acts upon Hashem’s command to round up the troops and prepare for war (31, 1-3). The Sifri (see Rashi) explains that this fact is tremendous praise for Moshe Rabeinu. He knew that his passing was dependent upon the completion of this mission, and he nonetheless acted with enthusiasm and zeal in carrying it out.
While this is a beautiful Medrash there are still some seemingly significant problems with it. It would seem that the Medrash deduces that Moshe would pass on immediately after the victory against Midyan. It is true that Hashem said that Moshe would pass on after executing His vengeance upon the Midyanim; however it is clear from the Torah that Moshe Rabeinu had time to accomplish other things after he wiped out the Midyanim. Waging war against Midyan was not the last thing Moshe Rabeinu did in his life. What is the Passuk telling us? How can the Medrash infer something from the Passuk which seem to be so obviously incorrect?
Furthermore, Hashem had commanded Moshe earlier to look at Eretz Yisroel from Har-HaOvarim and that he would afterwards pass on (27, 12-13). While the Passuk doesn’t make any mention that Moshe Rabeinu actually carried out Hashem’s order, Chazal in Parshas V’Eschanan imply that he complied with Hashem’s request. Assuming that there too Moshe acted without delay, why is there no mention of the same praise for Moshe there? And, if Moshe didn’t actually act with haste in order to see Eretz-Yisroel, why so?
Perhaps, in order to fully grasp this Sifri, we must understand what was unique about this commandment vis-a-vis the commandment of looking at Eretz-Yisroel.
When Hashem had told Moshe to go up the mountain and look at Eretz-Yisroel, Hashem’s commandment was followed by a dialogue. Moshe Rabeinu beseeched Hashem to allow him to actually enter into Eretz-Yisroel. Thus, when Hashem told Moshe to look at Eretz-Yisroel, it was more in response to Moshe’s burning desire to enter the Land of Hashem, and not really a prerequisite command to Moshe Rabeinu’s passing on.
The Baal-Haturim suggests a correlation between Moshe’s passing on and the war against the Midyanim. Because Moshe was not zealous enough to kill Kazbi and Zimri, one can sense in this lack of action, a lack of zealousness for Hashem. Thus, Moshe was enabled to make up for this lack by being the one to take revenge upon Midyan.
Moshe Rabeinu undeniably carried out other things after the revenge on Midyan; it is possible that Moshe Rabeinu even knew that it was likely he would live on a bit of time after this vengeance upon Midyan.
Many of us view life as a blessing and death as a curse. However, in reality, we all know that it is not necessarily so. The world-to-come is far greater than this world, and this world is merely a vestibule to the world-to-come. However, if someone sins, or merely doesn’t accomplish his potential, his world-to-come may not be so desirable a place. While one is still living, there is still the opportunity to work towards fulfilling his potential. Thus, most people are afraid of dying because they fear the unknown, and they like the opportunities for fulfilment that living provides them. Hashem came to Moshe and told him that after he takes revenge on Midyan he will have reached his potential. The Gemorah in Chagiga tells us that there is a specific time for every individual to pass on. It can be inferred from other Gemaros and Maamarei Chazal that there is also a particular place for every individual to pass on.
There may have been all sorts of reasons as to why Moshe Rabeinu lived on after slaying the Midyanim. The Passuk is meant to be understood as praise because Moshe knew he had the antidote to his ‘death’, and he chose not to use it. If Moshe Rabeinu had wanted to live, it was within his power to do so, because he knew the key to fulfilling his potential. However, to Moshe Rabeinu that was unthinkable. Moshe could not allow himself to do so at the cost of deferring Ratzon Hashem. No matter what ulterior motives he could have had, nothing was as important as fulfilling Ratzon-Hashem.
At the beginning of this week’s second Sedra the Torah tells us of each and every one of Klal-Yisroel’s forty two encampments in the Midbar. The Minhag is that we glorify the majority of these travels by reading them with a special tune just as we do for the Shiras Hayam. Rashi explains that Hashem felt it necessary to retell of all these travels because He cherished them; Rashi offers the following analogy to explain further: There was once a King who had a son who was sick. In order to cure him it was nescesary to travel to a far away land. Only there did the doctors have the special knowledge and skills to heal him. Once they were on their way back, the King began to recount to his son all the stops they had made on the way to cure him and why they were nescesary, and what they did at each one. So too Hashem wanted to remind us of what had occurred to us and what we did at each stop as He was bringing us to our final destination of Eretz-Yisroel.
While superficially this mashal-nimshal seems to make sense, it also raises some questions. In our Parsha’s recounting of Klal-Yisroel’s journeys the Torah doesn’t for the most part tell us of what happened at most of their stops. Only here and there does the Torah mention briefly something of what happened. Furthermore, in the mushel mentioned above, the king and his son were on their way back passing through once again each and every one of those same places. Here in our Parsha they weren’t returning to where they came from, but rather going forward to Eretz Yisroel.
Hakadosh Baruch Hu had told Avrohom Avinu that his children would inherit and have Eretz-Yisroel as their own. Avrohom Avinu questioned Hashem: “Bameh Aidoh” (“how, through what will I know this to be so”). Hashem answered him that his descendants would first be slaves in a foreign land. Evidently it seemed as if Klal-Yisroel had started off in Eretz-Yisroel, but that in order eventually to possess the Land as their own they needed to somehow deserve it. Thus Avrohom Avinu asked Hashem: how will I know that they will for certain deserve it? Hashem therefore told Avrohom Avinu that they would not inherit it and receive it easily, but rather that they would first earn the right to Eretz-Yisroel.
In essence, the whole time Klal-Yisroel was in the Midbar they were really on their way back, but while on this way back they were also adding the final touches to being deservant of Eretz-Yisroel.
While we might have accounted for the way back issue, the mashal-nimshal has only been complicated further as Rashi is explaining why the Torah is repeating briefly now not during their actual travels back to Eretz-Yisroel. We are still are unclear as to what Rashi means: why were all these stops dear to Hashem?
My Rosh Yeshiva Hagaon Reb Eli Dov Wachtfogel Shlita mentions every year during the Bein-Hamaitzarim the following idea. He explains that while we cannot understand the reasons for every Churban nor for every move Klal-Yisroel has made there is still an observational ultimate good element that comes out of every Churban Am-Yisroel has unfortunately undergone. In every Churban that we have gone through there was some sort of negative element of Klal-Yisroel that was removed in its totality. Most recently this was evident in the Holocaust when we suffered immeasurable losses on an incomparable scale. We also lost the negative element of the Maskilim. Haskala was killed by the holocaust.
We live today in a world full of Torah and religious Jews. We live in a generation in which there is more Lomdei Torah (not only in actual numbers but also percentage wise) than in any other generation. This is because those members of Klal-Yisroel that survived unblemished are the only the ones who so strongly cleaved to the Torah and Mitzvos no matter what element tried to pull them away. Those returning to the Torah now are also only those who have pulled themselves back to cleave strongly to the Torah as well.
Perhaps this is really the idea that Rashi is bringing out. What matters is not so much which journeys and at what point in time Klal-Yisroel made these journeys, but that all the journeys that Klal-Yisroel took and are taking are all al Pi Hashem and all are steps that we are taking towards the ultimate Geula.
May it be Hashem’s Will that we have already taken that last journey and that we are already deservant at the Geula. Please may it be Hashem’s Ratzon that we stand now at the threshold of the Geula, and we will receive Eretz-Yisroel and the Beis-Hamikdosh once and for all. May this Tzom Hachamishi be a full Yom-Tov.
Rabbi Krakowski is Director of OU Kashrus in Eretz-Yisroel. Rabbi Krakowski served as Rov of Kehilas Torah Vechessed and now serves as a Moreh Tzedek in Sharei Chesedand Rechavia Neighborhoods. He serves as a Rabinic advisor to various Minyanim in Central Yerushalayim. Rabbi Krakowski learned in Beis Hamedrash and Mesivta of Baltimore, Shaar HaTorah Grodna in Queens, South Falsburg,Brisk, and Nachalos Elazar.