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 miraculous events?
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 Alps.
Dedicated in memory of Ruth Alpert by Mr. and Mrs. Seymour Kramer.
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.