Parshas Matos

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 is a 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 didn’t he?

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.

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This week’s Sedra presents us with an extremely interesting episode. The Torah tells us that Shevet Reuven and Gad had abundant livestock, and consequently needed pasture land that could support such livestock. The Torah tells us that this prompted them to make a special request from Moshe Rabeinu. Reuven and Gad asked if instead of getting a portion in Eretz-Yisroel they could keep the conquered Transjordan cities and their surrounding territory. Moshe Rabeinu at first became upset at their request. After Reuven and Gad explained that they were willing to spearhead the conquest of Eretz-Yisroel proper Moshe Rabeinu relented, and upon Hashem’s allowing such an arrangement, agreed to it. Moshe Rabeinu then proceeded to make his agreement conditional upon their leading the conquest. However, instead of saying that should they fail to keep their part of the bargain they would lose any right to the Land, Moshe Rabeinu told them instead that they would inherit with everyone else in Eretz Yisroel proper.

This whole episode is baffling. Moshe Rabeinu at first gets upset at Reuven and Gad, and compares them to the Meraglim, but as soon as they agree to take part in the war he concedes. What changed after they explained that they were willing to spearhead the conquest of Eretz-Yisroel? Wasn’t Moshe Rabeinu’s issue that he understood them as preferring to stay in the “Midbar” rather than to inherit Eretz-Yisroel (exactly what Moshe Rabeinu was fighting for Hashem to allow him – the opportunity to enter Eretz-Yisroel)?

At the end of his rebuke of Gad and Reuven Moshe Rabeinu is explicit about the two problems he has with their request: 1) that they appear to prefer staying in the Midbar rather than enter Eretz-Yisroel, and 2) that by in a sense abandoning their brethren and staying behind as the bulk of the Nation is about to enter the Land, they would be demoralizing everyone else – their ‘dropping out’ at this critical moment would severely demoralize the rest of the Nation. While Reuven and Gad’s commitment to fight in the vanguard of the Conquest might alleviate Moshe Rabeinu’s second concern, it does not seem to answer the first problem.

How could Reuven and Gad wish to stay in Chutz LaAretz, and furthermore how could such a wish possibly be granted?

The truth is that from Klal-Yisroel’s conquest of Eretz-Yisroel until (at least) their first exile whatever they conquered had the status of Eretz-Yisroel. This being the case, it would seem that Moshe Rabeinu himself not only entered Eretz-Yisroel, but that he was actually buried in Eretz-Yisroel. If so how could Hashem tell Moshe Rabeinu that he would never enter Eretz-Yisroel?

The answer is simple. In order for any annexed piece to be considered part of Eretz-Yisroel there first has to be an Eretz-Yisroel. When Moshe Rabeinu passed on there wasn’t any Eretz-Yisroel. Eretz-Yisroel had yet to be. Therefore while at some point in time his burial place became Eretz-Yisroel, Moshe Rabeinu himself nonetheless had never entered Eretz-Yisroel.

When Reuven and Gad originally came to Moshe Rabeinu Moshe assumed that they weren’t planning on continuing the conquest. However, once they promised that they would spearhead the conquest of Eretz-Yisroel, Moshe Rabeinu understood that they didn’t wish to forfeit their entry into Eretz-Yisroel. It is for this reason that Moshe Rabeinu told them that if they did not end up leading the conquest they would still nevertheless inherit a portion in Eretz-Yisroel.

Ahavas Eretz-Yisroel must be a given for every Jew. If one prefers Chutz LaAretz over Eretz-Yisroel one is in some way comparable to the Meraglim. However, if one has Ahavas HaAretz, then even if one doesn’t end up living there, one surely will still have a portion awaiting him in Eretz-Yisroel.