Last week, a friend pointed out to me a very interesting insight. He noted that both the first direct command in the Torah to an individual and the last have a striking similarity. Hashem’s last charge in the Torah is the directive to His beloved servant Moshe. Hashem tells him to stand on a mountain and view the Land of Israel. He shows him its beautiful hills, valleys, and fertile plains. Then He says, “you shall not go there.”
Similarly, the Torah begins with a very similar scenario. Adam, in the Garden of Eden, is shown the entire Garden of Eden. After he is shown the fruit of all its trees and invited to partake in all its delicious beauty, he is warned. One tree, The Tree of Knowledge, is forbidden.
Can there be a connection between the restrictions placed upon Adam in the Garden and those placed upon Moshe in the final stages of his life? Why does the Torah begin and end with bountiful visions that are bordered by restrictions?
As Rav of the tiny village of Tzitivyan, my grandfather, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, and his family lived in dire poverty. On his meager wages, the children went hungry and had hardly any clothes to wear. It was no wonder that jubilation filled Reb Yaakov’s home upon hearing that he was the preferred candidate for the Rabbinate of Wilkomir, the third-largest Jewish city in Lithuania. He was assured of the position and was told that the K’sav Rabbanus, the Rabbinical contract, would be forthcoming.
After a few weeks of waiting, however, Reb Yaakov was informed that his hopes had been dashed. The position was given to a colleague whose influential family had affected the revised decision. Though the Kamenetzky family was almost in mourning, Reb Yaakov assured them that sometimes no is the best answer. “We may not always understand it at the time, but, there is a clear future even when your hopes and dreams seem to have been destroyed.”
The continued dire poverty solidified my grandfather’s decision to come to America, where he eventually created a life of Torah leadership.
The town of Wilkomir was decimated by the Nazis, who killed almost all of its inhabitants along with their Rav.
Perhaps the Torah is sending an underlying message through its greatest mortals. Not everything you would like to have is yours for the asking. And not everything that your eyes behold is yours for the taking. This world is confined. You can’t have it all. And what you don’t take may be a true blessing. On this earth there will always be wants that we will not, can not, and should not obtain.
The Torah is replete with restrictions. They present themselves in what we put in our mouths, what we put in our minds, and what we wear on our bodies. Life must embrace self-control.
Torah Jews are lucky, however. Their sense of “no” is already in the know. By following the clear guidelines of the 365 negative commandments, they are safeguarded and conditioned for many of the difficult responses they face in a very tempting society.
The Torah surrounds its entirety with that message. Moshe on his exit had to hear it, just as Adam did upon his entry. As we just ended a year and begin a new one, it is important for us to hear it as well.
Mordechai Kamenetzky – Yeshiva of South Shore
Text Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.