Moshe begins this week's portion by telling the Jewish people how he
pleaded with the Almighty to let him see the Land of Israel. He relates:
"I implored Hashem at that time, saying: 'My Lord, Hashem you have begun to
show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand, for what power is
there in the heaven or on the earth that can perform according to Your
deeds and according to Your mighty acts? Let me now cross and see the good
Land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the
Lebanon" (Deuteronomy 3:23-25).
The prelude and the plea seem disjointed. What connection is there between
Moshe having begun to see "Hashem's greatness and strong hand," and his
next request to enter the Land of Israel?
It is as if Moshe's stratagem is to tell Hashem, "I have just begun to see
Your greatness, please let me culminate this great experience with a grand
finale entering Israel." But that seems odd. Is it possible to compare
the land he desires to enter with all he saw during the amazing desert trek?
Is there any sight comparable to the splitting of the sea? Will there be
any produce as amazing as the manna? Will there be any water sweeter than
that of the rock? Can Moshe honestly be hinting that Israel could be the
apex of His glory, as opposed to an anticlimax to forty-years filled with
When I studied in Israel some twenty-five years ago, I often had occasion
to speak to my father's cousin, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, author of Alei Shur (a
profound mussar work), Mashgiach of Yeshiva Be'er Yaakov, and the founder
of the Lehmann Bais HaMussar in Yerushalayim. A student of the great
mussar luminaries of the previous generation, Rabbi Wolbe is a very
soft-spoken man. In his quiet manner and measured words, his mussar message
impacts thousands through profound talks and prolific writings.
I was at his home. My visit was more familial, than pedagogical, and I was
discussing a bit about his Swedish roots and European topography. We came
to the subject of the Swiss Alps. "I mentioned, that I heard in the name
of the Brisker Rav, the revered mentor of Rav Wolbe's generation, that when
the Moshiach will come, he will transport the Swiss Alps and transplant
them in Israel.
Upon hearing me utter those words, Rav Wolbe's tranquil demeanor changed
immediately. He stood up to his full height. There was fire in his eyes.
"Der Brisker Rav hut das kain mohl nisht gezagt! The Brisker Rav could
never have said that!" he boomed. Rav Wolbe continued with a soliloquy
whose passion never left me. "There are no mountains as beautiful as those
in Tz'fas. There are no lakes as beautiful as the Kineret. And there is no
city that sparkles like Jerusalem! Moshiach need not bring anything here!
It is all here!"
I am not sure if on an aesthetic level, I am able to concur with his vision
or comprehend the reality of his perspective. However, I do feel one
thing. Though beauty and glory are subjective, the passion expressed by
Rabbi Wolbe is one I, and I hope every Jew, strives to attain.
Perhaps Moshe was pleading as an expression of the Jew's eternal longing,
appreciation, and passion for Eretz Yisrael. His statement, "Hashem, you
have just started to show me the power and the glory" was though Moshe
understood that all the miracles, the splitting of the sea, the miraculous
manna, the water from the rock , were only a prelude to Eretz Yisrael and
would not compare to the greatness attainable from the majestic experience
of entering the land.
It is a longing every Jew should have, whether waiting for the redemption
from a balcony in Boca, or atop a mountain villa perched high in the Swiss
Dedicated in memory of Ruth Alpert by Mr. and Mrs. Seymour Kramer.