Parshat Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)
Rabbi David Stav
Parshat Va’etchanan, the second portion of the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), begins with a heart-rending account of how Moshe pleads with the Almighty to allow him to enter the Promised Land, even though he had sinned in striking the rock at Mei Meriva. God, however, refuses his request, saying “for you shall not cross this Jordan” [Devarim 3:27). He tells Moshe to climb to the top of the mountain, from where he could view the land from afar. Moshe will ultimately merit to see the land, but only from afar. For Moshe, physically entering it would forever remain an unfulfilled dream.
I have spent years trying to picture Moshe, the very epitome of leadership, yearning to lead his people into the Promised Land. The Holy One Blessed Be He gives him a “taste” of the land, by granting him the privilege of conquering the provinces to the east of the Jordan, but he never reaches the place he so cherished. What did he feel? Was it anger? Sadness? Frustration? What was he to do with these mixed emotions?
We should note that Moshe also had a bone to pick with the nation he was leading, and he voices his grievances quite explicitly in this parsha. He even claims that they are the very reason God wouldn’t let him enter the land: “But Hashem became angry with me…” [Devarim 3:26]. With this in mind, we should also note what Moshe does, to everyone’s surprise, when his pleas go unheeded.
What would we do if were in his shoes? Would we hold a grudge, and say to ourselves “if they don’t want us, well, we’ll just do what’s good for us”? Or is there another path to follow?
The Torah tells us that immediately after Hashem makes it crystal-clear to Moshe that Hashem’s instructions hadn’t changed at all, and that he wouldn’t enter the Land of Israel, Moshe takes action.
One of most important things he does is deliver a series of speeches detailing the economic, military and religious challenges the nation of Israel would face when they enter the Promised Land. He could have simply stated that he was no longer responsible for them at that point, and that the younger generation needed to figure things out for themselves. We are all too familiar with managers or leaders that hesitate to train adequate replacements, just so that everyone remembers their successes.
It is precisely at this point that Moshe’s character traits shine. When the nation suffered, Moshe felt their pain. National tragedies became his own, and this is exactly why everything Moshe did was for the good of nation, even when he was no longer there to guide them. He has no qualms about speaking harshly and saying things no one wanted to hear. He warns the people that, under certain conditions, they may be expelled from the land, and this is exactly what happened (it isn’t a coincidence that these verses are read in the synagogue on the Ninth of Av).
However, it isn’t anger or frustration that prompts Moshe’s rebukes, but rather a genuine love and concern for the welfare of the people.
Even when Moshe mentions the most trying times for the Jewish people, he prophesies:
“When you are in distress and all these things have befallen you, at the end of days, you will return unto Hashem, your God…”
Indeed, the nation is never completely severed from its roots and foundations. In this parsha, Moshe teaches us how a leader whose desires go unfulfilled ought to behave. Any leader whose prime concern is his nation understands that his personal needs and desires are secondary. He must ask himself what his nation truly needs, and he must remember that his nation’s successes outweigh his leadership position.
We also have expectation of ourselves and our leaders, hoping that the good of the country takes precedence over any other personal considerations. Let that be our consolation as we witness the hardships we struggle with, in the struggle to create a strong economy and a successful society in the State of Israel.
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