an unanswered prayer
Of the many prayers and requests that Moses makes to God throughout the Bible, only one is on his own behalf. At the start of this week’s reading Moses recounts his single request for himself: that he be allowed to go into the land of Israel.
“Let me cross over and see the good land which is beyond the Jordan…” (Devarim III:25)
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, one of the leading Chassidic rebbes of the 19th century, notes the strange emphasis on the word ‘good’ in Moses’ prayer (“see the good land”). He suggests that Moses’ plea was more than simply a request to see the land of Israel; rather it was a prayer that his eyes should always see the good in the land of Israel, despite what may seem on the surface to be failings and shortcomings.
Moses’ single request for himself is denied. Instead, God tells him that he may climb a high peak and see the entire length and breadth of Israel:
“Get thee up to the top of the mountain peak, and raise your eyes, westwards and northwards, and southwards and eastwards, and see with your eyes, for you shall not cross the Jordan.” (Devarim III:27)
From this description it sounds as though Moses is being shown the physical extent of the land of Israel from afar. But for the Rabbis, this description suggests that Moses was given a more profound overview. As the Midrash comments:
“God showed Moses all of Israel both in its periods of tranquility as well as the oppressors who were destined to afflict it”.
Moses was given a vision of Israel in its entirety, not just in space, but also over the whole span of history, with its periods of quiet and periods of oppression.
Reading the comments of Menachem Mendel of Kotzk together with this Midrash, suggests that Moses’ prayer was not just to be able to focus on the good in the physical land of Israel, but also, even in challenging and difficult periods, to see the positive dimensions of Jewish history.
So it is fitting that this Parshat Vaetchanan is always read on the Shabbat after Tisha B’av, the fast marking the greatest tragedies of Jewish history. This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Nachamu , the Shabbat of comfort, on which we reaffirm that, notwithstanding the tragedies that have confronted us, we are committed to focusing on the positive dimension of our land and our history. And in our generation, this sense of the positive as we survey our land and history, is heightened by the knowledge that the privilege of entering into our land and living there, a privilege denied to Moses himself, is open to every one of us.
On a lighter note
As the EL AL plane settled down at Ben Gurion airport, the voice of the captain came on:
“Please remain seated with your seat belts fastened until this plane is at a complete standstill and the seat belt signs have been turned off. We also wish to remind you that using cell phones on board this aircraft is strictly prohibited.”
The captain paused then added: “To those who are seated, we wish you a Merry Christmas, and hope that you enjoy your stay… And to those of you standing in the aisles and talking on your cell phones, we wish you a Happy Chanukah, and welcome back home!”