The long-awaited moment is finally drawing near. The forty long years in
the desert are coming to an end. The Jewish people are massed on the far
side of the Jordan River, preparing to cross into the Promised Land.
Exuberant joy sweeps through the Jewish encampment, but it is tempered by
an element of poignant tragedy. Moses, their great leader, will not
accompany them on this final leg of their journey from slavery to exalted
In this week’s Torah portion, we watch as Moses pleads with Hashem for a
reprieve from this difficult decree, but Hashem grants only one small
concession. Before his passing, Moses is allowed to climb the summit of
Mount Nevo and gaze upon the entire length and breadth of the land -
north, south, east and west.
A number of questions immediately come to mind. Wouldn’t showing Moses a
tantalizing view of the land he could not enter only add to his sense of
loss? Furthermore, even from his vantage point on the high mountaintop,
how was he able to see the entire expanse of the land all the way to its
most distant borders? And if it was miraculous, why did he have to go up
to the mountaintop at all? Why didn’t Hashem simply show him the same
miraculous vision right at sea level?
Let us stop and consider for a moment. What exactly did Moses see when he
stood on the mountaintop? What sort of panoramic view could even partially
compensate for his failure to enter the Holy Land? The answer lies in the
difference between sight and insight. Moses undoubtedly was not concerned
with the graceful contours of the land or the pretty flowers that adorned
the valleys. He did not climb the mountain to feast his eyes on the
superficial beauty of the land. Rather, he wanted to train his penetrating
gaze on the sacred land, to probe beneath the surface and connect with its
holy spiritual core, to experience its essence through observation,
insight and ultimately knowledge.
Earlier, when Moses was a fugitive in the land of Midian, the Torah tells
us that he saw a bush engulfed in flames and said, “Why isn’t the bush
being consumed?” Our Sages tells us that Hashem rewarded Moses for turning
to look at the bush. What was so praiseworthy about turning to look at a
burning bush that was not being consumed? Wouldn’t it have piqued the
curiosity of any passerby?
Clearly, Moses was not being rewarded for simply looking at the bush. It
was his faculty of looking beyond appearances and probing for the essence
that earned him everlasting reward. Whereas an ordinary man might have
seen a piece of vegetation in a state of combustion, Moses saw the deeper
symbolism, the image of the Jewish people writhing in the flames of
Egyptian slavery but divinely protected from destruction.
When Moses trained this penetrating gaze on the Holy Land, he saw beyond
its body. He saw its heart and its soul. At this level, the land has a
symmetrical unity and form, and seeing part of it is like seeing the
whole. Just as a person can see an entire tree even without looking at
every individual leaf and twig, so did Moses on his mountaintop see the
entire length and breadth of the essence of the land.
When the insight of his mind connected with the image absorbed by his
eyes, he saw the spiritually radiant land blossom into the transcendent
Abode of the Divine Presence, and he experienced a spiritual elevation far
greater than lesser people would someday experience when standing near the
Holy of Holies.
In our own times, contemporary culture and the media bombard us with so
many eye-catching imagyes that we have become inured to the myriad
wondrous sights around us. It sometimes seems our sight has become so
overloaded that we have lost sight of insight. But we all have it within
our power to look with a more penetrating gaze, with more than our retinas
and optic nerves. If we seek out the internal beauty in every creature,
every tree, every blade of grass, if we recognize the handiwork of Hashem
in every speck of the universe, we will discover a far deeper level to
existence, a world where sight is rewarded by insight.