Parashas Shemos

This week’s parashah ends with Moshe crying out to Hashem over the Jewish People’s harshened slavery (Shemos 5:22-23): “My Lord, why have You done evil to this people, why have you sent me? From the day I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name he did evil to this people – You surely did not rescue them.” Hashem replies (ibid. 6:1): “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will evict them from his land.” The Midrash relates (Shemos Rabbah 5:23): “[Hashem said to Moshe:] ‘The wars against Pharaoh you will see, but you will not see the wars against the thirty-one Canaanite kings, against whom your disciple Yehoshua will take vengeance.’ From this we learn that at this point Moshe took upon himself the judgment that he would not enter the Land of Israel.”
The Maggid notes two puzzling aspects of this Midrash. First, the phrasing “Moshe took upon himself the judgment” is peculiar; we would expect the Midrash to say “Hashem imposed the judgment on Moshe.” Second, the Midrash appears at odds with another Midrash that discusses why Moshe did not enter Eretz Yisrael. In Devarim Rabbah 2:9, the Midrash says that Moshe died and was buried in the wilderness in order that, when the dead are resurrected in the end of days, he could lead the Jews who died in the wilderness to Eretz Yisrael.
This second Midrash draws an analogy to a person who dropped some copper coins all over the place in a dark area. He decided that if he would ask someone to shine him a light so that he could gather these coins, no one would pay attention. So he took a gold coin from his pocket, tossed it on the ground, and exclaimed: “Please shine me a light – I dropped a gold coin here!” Someone shone him a light, and he picked up the gold coin and, in the process, collected the scattered copper coins as well. Similarly, Hashem arranged for Moshe to be buried in the wilderness so that the rest of the wilderness generation would be gathered in along with him. According to this Midrash, Moshe’s death and burial in the wilderness was not due to any fault on his part, in apparent contradiction to the Midrash we quoted initially.
The Maggid goes on to quote another Midrash about the issue of whether Moshe would enter Eretz Yisrael (Devarim Rabbah 7:10):
[Hashem said to Moshe:] “You want to hold the rope at both ends. If you want your request ‘please let me pass over’ [into Eretz Yisrael, Devarim 3:25] to be fulfilled, then cancel your request ‘please forgive’ [the Jewish People, Bamidbar 14:19], and if you want your request ‘please forgive’ to be fulfilled, then cancel your request ‘please let me pass over.’” When Moshe heard this, he said: “Master of the Universe! Let Moshe die and a hundred like him, and let not one of them suffer injury, even to a fingernail.”
This Midrash is mysterious. The Maggid explains it follows. Hashem foresaw that the wilderness generation would need to have some righteous man buried in the wilderness with them so that at the end of days his merit would enable them to come back to life and enter Eretz Yisrael, as in the analogy of the coins that the Midrash in Devarim Rabbah 2:9 presents. But it remained for Him to choose which righteous man to give this role. Hashem saw that Moshe was a faithful shepherd to the Jewish People, always standing in the breach before Him on their behalf. Moshe exerted himself strenuously for them after the sin of the golden calf, after the sin of the scouts, and on other occasions when the Jewish People strayed. Yet he still found room to argue that his love for the Jews of the wilderness generation was not great enough to warrant his being buried with them, and to request that he instead be sent into Eretz Yisrael. When Moshe presented this request, Hashem responded by telling Moshe that he was trying to hold the rope at both ends. Hashem was pointing out to Moshe that since he stepped forward on behalf of the wilderness generation to ask Him to “please forgive,” it was evident that he was devoted to them, and was therefore well suited to be buried with them.
The real clincher, though, was Moshe’s complaint about the harshened slavery in Egypt: “My Lord, why have You done evil to this people ….” Here, Moshe spoke sharply toward Hashem, something that no other prophet dared to do. The Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 5:22 relates that when Moshe entered his complaint about the harshened slavery, the Attribute of Justice was poised to strike him, but since Hashem saw that it was on account of the Jewish People that Moshe complained as he did, the Attribute of Justice did not strike. Moshe’s bold action showed his great love for the Jewish People.
With this background, the Maggid presents a striking explanation of the statement in the first Midrash we quoted, that Moshe “took upon himself the judgment that he would not enter the Land of Israel.” He brings out the idea with a parable. Two paupers came to a certain city, a young lad and an older man. The two got into an argument, and the older man struck the lad and injured him. The lad took the older man to court, and the judge asked the older man: “Why did you hit this lad?” The older man replied: “Your Honor, I am this lad’s uncle, his closest relative. His father died, and I have raised him. The lad was misbehaving, so I struck him to teach him not to act that way.” The lad countered: “What this man said is a lie. He is no relative of mine; he is a stranger. We met just a few days ago at the inn. He came with me into this city, and then he gave me a fierce beating for no reason. I ask you please, Your Honor, to grant me compensation for what he did to me.” The judge fined the older man a certain sum and ordered him to use the money to get the lad some good clothes. He said: “If the lad is telling the truth, that you are not his relative, then you deserve to be fined to compensate him. And if you are telling the truth, that you are his uncle and guardian, it befits you to get the lad proper clothes.”
Similarly, Moshe’s sharp speech locked in his ultimate burial in the wilderness, for whichever way his conduct is viewed, burial in the wilderness is a fitting outcome. If his sharp speech constituted a sin, he deserved to be buried in the wilderness as punishment. And if it was not a sin, because it was prompted by his supreme love for the Jewish People, this love also made it fitting for him to be buried with the wilderness generation for their benefit.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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