Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Moshe Rabeinu's Last Day
And Moshe went... (31:1)
Peculiarly, the pasuk does not specify where Moshe went. Targum
Yonasan (an Aramaic translation of the Chumash written by the
Tanna R' Yonasan ben Uziel) writes, "Moshe went to the Beis
HaMidrash (study hall)." (Evidently, we can assume that if Moshe
went anywhere, it was most likely his favourite place - the Beis
HaMidrash.) Why did he go there now?
Moshe begins his speech (31:2), "I am one hundred and twenty years
old today; I can no longer go and come." Is it possible, asks Rashi,
that Moshe could no longer "go and come" - that he was
experiencing a loss of strength and vitality? Impossible! The Torah
writes (34:5-7), "So Moshe, servant of Hashem, died there in the land
of Moav... Moshe was one hundred and twenty years old when he
died; his eye had not dimmed and his vigour had not diminished."
Rashi answers that "going and coming" must be understood not in
a physical sense, but rather "that the wellsprings of knowledge and
wisdom were withheld from him on the day of his death," i.e. he was
unable to "go and come" through the Gates of Wisdom.
Moshe therefore went to the Beis HaMidrash to study, in order to
continue his life of learning Torah until the moment of his death. [Lev
There is an important lesson to be learned from this. Sometimes our
avodas Hashem (service of Hashem) "goes" - it feels satisfying and
fulfilling. Sometimes it doesn't. At times it seems that things don't
"go" at the worst possible moment.
Case in point: It is said that a chassan (groom) on the day of his
wedding is like a king - everything he asks (from Hashem) will be
granted. I remember being very psyched-up as a chassan. I got up
early to say Tehillim (Psalms) before davening (praying), and planned
for myself a day of prayer and inspiration. To make a long story
short: It didn't "go". My prayers just didn't feel the way I thought they
would. They were uninspired. And nothing I could do helped.
Often this can happen to a person during the Yamim Noraim (Days
of Awe). Sometimes, even after having made ample preparations, our
prayers just don't have the "feeling" we expected. It can be very
frustrating, especially for someone who has invested a fair amount of
time and effort in preparing for his prayers. How are we to react when
this happens? Are we to throw in the proverbial towel and give up?
It is well known that for a tzaddik, a righteous person, the day-of-
death is a highly elevated time. The Holy Zohar discusses at great
length the mystical day-of-death of its author Rabbi Shimon bar
Yochai. Imagine, then, the irony that Moshe Rabbeinu, on the day
that he is to depart from this world, has the Gates of Wisdom
slammed shut in his face!
How did Moshe react? He went to Beis HaMidrash. It is as if to say,
"Since I find myself right now unable to serve Hashem - to learn
Torah and communicate with Hashem - in the elevated state to which
I am accustomed, I will go to the Beis HaMidrash and study Torah
there like a simple Jew." No dejection. No depression. Just the simple
realization that "it's not up to me." A person can be asked for no
more that to do his very best with the moment he has been given. If
this moment is meant to be spent serving Hashem with deep feelings
of inspiration and fervour - great. If it is meant to be spent serving
Hashem simply by just saying the words of tefilah (prayer) or Torah
with the most concentration one can muster - so be it. Lack of
inspiration is not an excuse for ceasing to serve Hashem.
The fervour with which the holy tzaddik Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of
Berditchov served Hashem is legendary. It is said that R' Levi Yitzchak
could never fall asleep on Motzei Shabbos out of excitement for
laying tefillin Sunday morning after not having done so on Shabbos.
On the first night of Sukkos, he would wait up all night in anticipation
of fulfilling the mitzvah of esrog and lulav in the morning. And when
the morning sun came out, he would take out his esrog and lulav
and kiss them over and over again out of great love. In fact it is told
that once, in a state of great excitement, when reaching for his arba
minim he accidentally forgot to open the doors of his cabinet, and
put them straight through the glass.
Little known is the year-long period during which all of R' Levi
Yitzchak's spiritual elevation was taken from him. Nonetheless, during
that year, he served Hashem as would a simple Jew, through words
of prayer and studying the Torah to the best of his abilities.
This was a nisayon, a test. Was R' Levi Yitzchak's service of Hashem
dependent on the feelings of awe and inspiration he was accustomed
to? It should never be. Sometimes these things are beyond our
control. We have to follow the example Moshe Rabbeinu set for us on
the day of his departure from this world. We have to do our best with
each moment, and put in time each day davening and learning. See
you in Beis HaMidrash...
Text Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.