Moses Bound to His Generation's Fate
The series of disasters that befell the Jewish people in the desert of
Sinai, as recorded for us in the previous parshiot of the book of Bamidbar,
reaches its climax in this week’s parsha. Heaven decrees that neither Moshe
nor Aharon or Miriam – the entire leadership team of the Jewish people –
will be allowed to enter the Land of Israel.
The treatment of Moshe individually seems rather harsh to our limited human
understanding of these matters, in light of his seemingly minor
transgression of smiting the rock instead of speaking to it. Because of this
problem, some of the commentators and scholars – Rambam and Abarbanel for
example – claim that the punishment was for an accumulation of previous
minor transgressions that culminated with Moshe’s striking the rock – a
straw that broke the camel’s back type of scenario.
Most commentators however concentrate on attempting to explain the matter in
light of the statement in the Torah itself, that Moshe’s punishment was due
to the sole incident of his striking the rock instead of following God’s
instruction to speak to it.
Be this matter as it is in all of its wondrous complexity and difficulty,
the bottom line is that the Jewish people will not enjoy Moshe’s presence
and leadership when they embark on their task of nation building upon
entering the Land of Israel. All of Jewish history, in fact all of world
history, would have been different had Moshe led Israel into its promised
land. But it was not to be.
I think that among the many lessons and nuances present in this Torah lesson
there is one that bears great relevance to understanding the pattern of
Jewish history itself. And that lesson is that a leader, no matter how great
he is individually – even if he is Moshe who is able, so to speak, to relate
to God directly and at will – is still only a product of his time and
If Moshe’s generation, the generation that left Egypt and stood at Sinai to
receive the Torah is not going to enter the Land of Israel, then Moshe
himself will also not enter it. The leader is bound to the fate and
occurrences of his generation and times. A great leader of one time is not
necessarily the great leader of another period.
The Talmud points this out in many different ways: “Yiftach is the great
leader for his generation just as Shmuel was the great leader for his time.”
Individually speaking, the two may not be on the same plane and level of
spiritual greatness, but Shmuel is not the suited for leadership of
Yiftach’s generation just as Yiftach is not the right person to lead the
generation of Shmuel.
Moshe is inextricably bound to his generation and cannot enter the Land of
Israel. The rabbis also taught us: “The rule over the people of one time
cannot impinge for even a hair’s breadth over the rule over the people of
the next generation.” These ideas and axioms bound Moshe as well and they
precluded him from entering the Land of Israel no matter his spiritual
greatness and quality.
Rabbi Berel Wein