Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why should Moshe Rabbenu desire the gashmiyus of Eretz Yisrael?

Summary: Maybe indeed he did. Or maybe it represented the completion of his mission. Or maybe the gashmiyus was only means to a spiritual end.

Post: Towards the beginning of vaEtchanan, we read the contents of Moshe's plea to Hashem:

25. Pray let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon."כה. אֶעְבְּרָה נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה אֲשֶׁר בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן הָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה וְהַלְּבָנֹן:

On a simple peshat level, Moshe wishes to see the good land, the good mountain, and Lebanon. One could understand that, I think. He had worked for the past forty years bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness, and he wanted to see it through, and to see the physical goodness of the promised land.

Still, one could be troubled by the gashmiyus of this. Thus we see in Sotah 14a:
R. Simlai expounded: Why did Moses our teacher yearn to enter the land of Israel? Did he want to eat of its fruits or satisfy himself from its bounty? But thus spake Moses, 'Many precepts were commanded to Israel which can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel. I wish to enter the land so that they may all be fulfilled by me'. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, 'Is it only to receive the reward [for obeying the commandments] that thou seekest? I ascribe it to thee as if thou didst perform them'; as it is said...
Moshe's concern was the mitzvos hateluyos ba'aretz. This becomes more ruchniyus, then, with the gashmiyus as a means to the ruchniyus. I think a similar force impels the midrash in the Sifrei, brought down by Rashi:

אעברה נא: אין נא אלא לשון בקשה:
ההר הטוב הזה: זו ירושלים:
והלבנון: זה בית המקדש:

The good mountain is Yerushalayim and the Lebanon is the Beit Hamikdash, which whitens the sins of Israel. These, then, are spiritual locations he wishes to visit. It is interesting that the Targum Onkelos and Targum Yonatan follow this same path, rather than rendering it literally.

Ibn Ezra has a middle ground, I think. I think he makes these places literal, but gives a spiritual reason one would want to express a desire to see them. Thus, at the close of his commentary to the previous pasuk, 3:24, he writes:
וטעם זו הפרשה: לחבב את ארץ ישראל ואם הארץ תהיה חביבה, ישמרו מצות השם שלא יגלו ממנה.
"And the purpose of this parasha {=segment} is to make Eretz Yisrael more desirable. And if the land is desirable, then they will keep the commandments of Hashem, so that they will not be exiled from it."

From a theological perspective, this resolves the problems. We can still take the pasuk on its peshat level, that it is referring to the actual land, and yet still maintain the religious point that it is not about the physical. The gashmiyus is a means to the ruchniyus.

My reservations regarding this is that even if that is the means to the end, all we now understand is why Moshe is relating to the Bnei Yisrael his desire to enter the land -- this way, he makes the land more chaviv. But what about his entreaties to Hashem in this matter? They had to happen in the first place. Obviously, Moshe himself had this desire, to see the land.

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