In the final moments before his death, Moshe climbed Mount Nevo. From that
position, G-d miraculously showed him the entirety of the Holy Land. "Moshe
ascended from the plains of Moav to Mount Nevo, to the summit of the cliff
that faces Jericho and G-d showed him the entire land... And G-d said to
him, 'This is the land I swore to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov...I have let
you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross over to there.'"
(Devarim/Deuteronomy 34:1,4) Rashi and other commentaries note the Moshe not
only saw the whole of the geography, but also prophetically saw scenes of
the entirety of Jewish history in the land, its prosperity and oppression
under future conquerors.
The Torah's narrative implies that Moshe's climbing Mount Nevo aided in his
viewing of the land, but if miracles and prophecy were employed, could this
not have all occurred on the plains? Why was the elevation to the summit
Michtav Me'Eliyahu (collected writings and discourses of Rabbi Eliyahu
Dessler (1891-1954) of London and B'nai Brak, one of the outstanding
personalities and thinkers of the Mussar movement) explains that the
ultimate understanding of nature is the appreciation that nature is simply
another facet of G-d's creation. In truth, there is no division between
"miracles" and "nature", but "nature" is simply the category of miracles to
which we are privy on a regular, daily basis. The ultimate appreciation of
all of creation being truly miraculous was exhibited by Rabbi Chanina ben
Dosa (Tractate Ta'anis 25a) who, late Friday afternoon consoled his daughter
who accidentally bought vinegar instead of oil for the Shabbos lamps. "He
who commanded oil to burn will command vinegar to burn," and it did,
throughout the entire Shabbos. There was no need for G-d to provide him with
oil, because, for Rabbi Chanina, the burning of oil was no less wondrous.
But, Rabbi Dessler continues, most of the great leaders in Jewish history
desired to remove the blatant nature of the miracles they experienced or
performed for fear that being allowed to perform open miracles would foster
a sense of haughtiness. Thus, miracles performed by the prophet Elisha
(Melachim/Kings 2 4) were performed in "natural" circumstances. He first
helped the debt-ridden widow of the prophet Ovadiah, pouring from her one
jug of oil to "fill" the countless pots and vessels she borrowed with oil
for her to sell to pay her creditors. He later resuscitated the dead son a
wealthy Shunamite woman by lying on him, eyes to eyes, mouth to mouth, palm
to palm, and praying, after which the boy came back to life. While these
feats are still obviously miraculous, the "efforts" surrounding them dulled
the glaring nature of G-d's gift. Even G-d Himself utilized this practice.
It was logically impossible to fit two of every animal species in the world
(and fourteen of each Kosher animal) AND the food necessary to sustain them
for a whole year onto an ark 525 feet long, 87 feet wide and 52 feet high,
yet G-d had Noach build one...and they fit! Why bother with an ark at all?
To minimize the spectacle of the miracle. Even Rabbi Chanina's miracle had
its root in nature, in that the flame had a fuel and did not burn from
nothing. So, too, concludes the Michtav Me'Eliyahu, Moshe climbed the mount
for G-d to give him the visual tour of the land and history beyond his
reach. Even Moshe, whom the Torah calls the greatest prophet of the Jewish
people and the most humble person in the history of the world, was concerned
for the impact of an open miracle on his humility.
Autumn marks the entry to the darker, colder days of winter. But autumn is
not only a time of harvest; it is also a time to plant that that will bloom
in the coming spring. We know that the physical realm is really a reflection
of the spiritual. With Simchas Torah we culminate the sowing of these last
thirteen weeks. The Three Weeks, Tisha B'Av, the four weeks of Elul, Rosh
HaShanah, the ten days of return, Yom Kippur, Succos and Simchas Torah have
been months invested with contemplation, invigoration and commitment to make
this new cycle one of development and progress in our spiritual growth.
To be sure, there will be challenges to our resolve, times that are "dark
and cold". But we are secure with the confidence that G-d rewards human
efforts with the daily gifts called "the course of nature" and these
presents are forthcoming for our spiritual sustenance as well as our
physical. We will have our successes - some "miraculous", some "natural".
But come next spring, when Pesach brings the cycle of holidays that
celebrate a new harvest of spiritual bounty, we will recall these days of
planting and humbly rejoice in the Divine presents each day brings.