Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on June 7, 2002 (5755) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of RabbiYissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torahportion: Tape # 22, Reading Haftorah: Scrolls vs Book. Good Shabbos!

The Rebuke Implicit in Moshe’s Inability to Cross the Jordan

“And Moses went (vayelech) and spoke all these words to all of Israel”[Devorim 31:1]. The Medrash Tanchuma says that whenever we find the word”Vaylech” it implies the giving of rebuke (tochacha/mussar). Thecontinuation of the Parsha, however, does not seem to bear out thismessage of rebuke.

The Mikdash Mordechai interprets the Medrash Tanchuma:

The Yalkut says that when Moshe told the nation “I am 120 years old today,I can no longer come and go; and G-d told me you will not cross thisJordan” [31:2] the people were astonished. How is it possible that thisMoshe Rabbenu who just yesterday could climb to the Heavens, today is notable to even cross this narrow river? And Moshe told them the reason wasbecause “Hashem amar eilay…” (G-d said to me) “You will not cross thisJordan”.

The Mussar that Moshe is saying is that people are not in control. Peoplethink that they call the shots. They think that they have strength andability to do whatever they want. There is a Yiddish expression “Amensch tracht un Gut Lacht” (A person thinks… and G-d laughs). Themussar is that this same Moshe Rabbenu that yesterday was like an Angelwho could do anything, today can’t do anything … because G-d overruledhim.

In the Haftorah from Shabbos Shuvah it is written “Ashur lo Yoshienu”(literally Assyria will not save us). Homiletically it is expounded thatthe word Ashur comes from Osher, happiness. The prophet is telling usthat what you think is going to make you happy is not the determiningfactor. The determining factor is the Ribbono Shel Olam. G-d wants Mosheto fly in the sky — he flies in the sky. G-d doesn’t want him to crossthe Jordan — Moshe Rabbenu is powerless.

We as human beings, especially those of us who are young, think we areomnipotent. We can set goals and accomplish them. It’s not so simple. G-d is the One who gives us strength to do everything. If He wants it, itcan happen; if He doesn’t want it, it can’t happen. This is the Mussar tobe derived from “Vaylech Moshe…”

Despair Does Not Lead to Repentance

The parsha tells us [31:16-18] that G-d predicted to Moshe Rabbenu thatafter his death “This nation will arise and stray after the foreign godsof the land…and they will abandon me and nullify my covenant… and Iwill get angry with them…and abandon them and hide my face fromthem…and a multitude of terrible sufferings will befall them.” Then,the prediction continues the Jewish people will say on that day “It isbecause G-d is not in our midst that these terrible events befell us.”

The simple reading would lead one to believe, that this reaction of theJewish people is a perfect response of Teshuva — of regret andrepentance. However the verse then proceeds to say “And I will Hide myFace on that day because of all the evil they have done, for they turnedto other gods.”

What is the reason for this continued Hiding of G-d’s Presence. Isn’t thereaction of the Jewish people a noble and appropriate response ofcontrition? The answer lies in a verse in Psalms, [130:4] “With You isthe Power of Forgiveness in order that You should be feared.”

There seems to be a logical problem with this pasuk. Logically, we wouldthink that because G-d has the power of forgiveness, that’s less of areason for us to fear Him. It makes more sense to fear an unforgiving godthan One Who Forgives.

Rav Dessler, z”tl, says when people despair they have no hope and no fear. Soldiers before battle are afraid — they don’t know what will face themon the battle field. But soldiers in the midst of battle have no fear. At that point, the situation is desperate and hopeless — there is nothingone can do. Fear only is relevant when there is hope to escape and avoida situation, not when a situation is inevitable.

If G-d was not a Forgiver; if there was no recourse to Teshuva, therewould be nothing to be afraid of during the Ten Days of Repentance. Therewould simply be nothing to do! “I sinned, I will be punished. There’snothing I can do about it.” But since “the Power of Forgiveness is withYou…” and “if I approach you correctly I can be forgiven, that’s why Youshould be feared.”

The Sefas Emes says that this is the meaning of the verses in our Parsha. When troubles will befall you and you say “because G-d is not in ourmidst, these troubles befell us…” That is not Teshuva! That is Despair(Yeush). When a person says I’m rotten and worthless, that is notRepentance, it is the opposite of Teshuva — it is Despair. The sin whichtriggers a further negative response from G-d is the sin of declaringoneself a worthless human being, devoid of any spirituality or religioussensitivity (G-d is not in my midst).

We find a similar idea at the beginning of Parshas Netzavim: [29:9] “Youare today standing, all of you.” Rashi says, the Jewish people justfinished listening to 98 Curses and they “turned green,” thinking, “Howwill we ever be able to survive?” Moshe Rabbenu tells them “Don’t worry. You’ve made G-d angry before, He has forgiven you… Don’t worry. You arestanding here today…” You will not be destroyed. G-d will forgive youwhen you do sins in the future just like he has forgiven you for the sinsyou’ve done in the past.

Moshe doesn’t appear to be a good “Maggid Mussar.” After he successfullyalarms them with the fearsome threat of 98 Curses, why is he nowundermining the effect of the entire “mussar shmues” by telling them notto be concerned by all this?

The answer is, as mentioned before: If the point of a “mussar shmues” isto cause people to feel desperate and without hope, then one has destroyedall he has set out to accomplish. The point of Teshuva is to have fear,but to also know that there is hope. To be aware that, “Although I havedone wrong in the past, my situation can be corrected.” A reaction ofturning green, of “there is no G-d in my midst”, is a counter-productivereaction which will not lead to the desired Teshuva. There is only hopewhen we know “You are all standing here today before G-d” and when we knowthat “With you is Forgiveness; consequently you we shall fear.”


Mussar Shmues — A talk by a Maggid Mussar (one who gives Mussar talks)
Mussar — Chastisement or rebuke aimed at self-improvement
Teshuva — Repentance
Yeush — Despair

Personalities & Sources:

Rav Eliyahu Dessler – (1891-1954) – One of 20th centuries outstanding “mussar movement” personalities; London, Bnei Brak.
Sefas Emmes – (1847-1905) — R. Yehudah Leib Alter; the second Gerrer Rebbe; Poland.
Mikdash Mordechai — Rav Mordechai Ilan; 20th century Israeli Rosh HaYeshiva

Transcribed by David TwerskyAssistance by Dovid Hoffman

This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion (#22). The corresponding halachic portion for this tape is: # 22 is: Reading Haftorah: Scrolls vs. Book. Other halachic portions for Parshas Vayeilech from the Commuter Chavrusah Series are:

  • Tape #112 – Shoteh: Mental Incompetence in Halacha
  • Tape # 158 – S’char Shabbos: How Do We Pay Rabbonim and Chazzanim?
  • Tape # 205 – Kiddush Before T’kiyas Shofar
  • Tape # 252 – Buying Seforim
  • Tape # 295 – Burying the Dead on Yom Tem Sheni
  • Tape # 341 – The Brachos on the T’kious
  • Tape # 342 – Is Building a Succah a Mitzvah?

Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from:

Yad Yechiel Institute
Call (410) 358-0416 for further information.

Also Available: Mesorah / Artscroll has published a collection of Rabbi Frand’s essays. The book is entitled:

Rabbi Yissocher Frand: In Print

and is available through Project Genesis On-Line Bookstore: