Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Va'etchanan
To dedicate this lesson

A Man Who Can Enter the Land


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Av 5768
Our parasha opens with Moshe’s rejected pleadings to enter Eretz Yisrael. It continues with important lessons from the period in the desert. Moshe warned the people not to get caught up with the practices of the C’na’anim after their period of national isolation in the desert was completed. The specific theme that was repeatedly stressed is to avoid making images of a god or to represent G-d. Moshe reminded the people that at Sinai they had not seen any images, just a revelation of Hashem Himself (see Devarim 4:15-19). In the midst of this discussion, Moshe mentioned that Hashem swore not to let him into the Land because He was angry at Moshe "over their [the people’s] words" (ibid.:23). Yet the Torah reverts once more to discuss the prohibition of possessing idols and images.
Commentaries (see Rakanati) were puzzled by the connection between Moshe’s denial of entry to the Land and the matter of images. Also, how did Moshe blame Bnei Yisrael for his inability to enter the Land, when the Torah points to his sin? Targum Yonatan says that through Bnei Yisrael’s difficult behavior at mei meriva, which prompted Moshe to hit the rock, Moshe had been kept out of the Land. However, that does not fully answer our questions. The Pesikta says that Moshe was not kept out because of any sin but because of the people, but it does not explain how.
We will suggest an explanation of the people’s part in keeping Moshe out based on the p’sukim’s perplexing context. As indicated, Hashem had, through His actions and His commands, tried to tame the desire for physical images in the service of Hashem. Yet, Bnei Yisrael had failed bitterly in this regard from the beginning. Forty days after the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the nation sinned with the Golden Calf. How did that happen? "The nation saw that Moshe was delayed in returning from the mountain and the nation assembled on Aharon and said: ‘Arise, make for us a god who will walk before us, for this man, Moshe, who took us out of the Land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him’" (Shemot 32:1).
Although they referred to Moshe as a man, they felt a need to create a physical god to deal with his absence. These words are that which prevented Moshe from entering the Land and completing his historic mission. Had Moshe brought Bnei Yisrael into the Land, they were liable to view him with Divine qualities that would have turned him into the center of a worship of a man. Therefore, specifically in the midst of the Torah section that discusses the prohibition of possessing images, Moshe said that their demonstrated tendency toward such mistakes kept him out of Eretz Yisrael.
Also nowadays, we must remember that, with all due respect to talmidei chachamim, one should not attribute to them Divine characteristics.
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