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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Va'etchanan

Moshe And The Military

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For all his greatness & closeness to G-d, Moshe still was a human being. He had feelings & he had failings; he experienced joy as well as sadness & frustration.

His greatest disappointment was being told by Hashem that he would not be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael. Moshe pleaded – according to Chazal, he offered no less than 515 prayers (the gematria of "V’Etchanan) – all to no avail. He was willing to enter as a "private citizen," rather than as leader of the nation, but that was rejected. He even, says the Medrash, asked to become a bird & fly over the border, but Hashem nixed that, too!

Many reasons are given for Moshe’s desperate desire to live in Israel, the principal one being that he wished to fulfill the Mitzvot that can only be earned in Israel (yes, Shmita is indeed fast approaching!). Others say it wasn’t about any specific Mitzva; it was simply Moshe’s steadfast belief that every Jew should live in the Holy Land, that the greatest Mitzva one can do is to be surrounded by the Kedusha that permeates this, & only this land.

This helps to answer the question: Why wasn’t Moshe content to reside in the land east of the Jordan where, says G’mara Bikkurim, the Mitzvot T’luyot B’Aretz apply no less than west of the Jordan? Yes, that is true; but that area is still not quite Israel proper, & it is not connected directly to Yerushalayim, so Moshe would not have been satisfied with that.

But there is another reason why Moshe did not want to "settle" for setting trans-Jordan. According to some commentaries, Moshe also wanted to be part of the war of conquest that would be fought against the 7 Canaanite nations then residing within the land. He wanted to join a brigade & fight side-by-side with Israel’s brave soldiers, under Yehoshua’s command, and be one of those who would liberate Eretz Yisrael & claim it for the Jewish People forever. The z’chut of being a chayal, Moshe felt, was among the greatest merits he could ever gain in this world. THAT was part of his determination to cross the border into Israel.

What an appropriate message on this Shabbat Nachamu, as we reflect on the war against terror we have been fighting for the last month - and years before! - as well as grieving over the horrific losses we have suffered in this conflict. No one – not the greatest Rosh Yeshiva, the most respected professor or the most celebrated political leader – can stand in the company of these soldiers & not be humbled by their bravery, their sacrifice, their kedusha. All must stand in respect of them.

In their great merit, we ask that Hashem save us, bring us true Nechama, & grant us victory & lasting Shalom.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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