Rabbi Aviya Rozen
Former Rosh Kollel in Melbourne
Moshe, the great leader, fulfills his assigned task and brings Am Yisrael to its land. Yet tragically, he himself is barred from entering Eretz Yisrael; Yehoshua is designated as the next leader; and Moshe finds himself begging for his life. As it turns out, the same man who successfully argued the nation’s case before HaKadosh Baruch Hu after chet ha’egel (the sin of the golden calf) comes up empty-handed when his own fate hangs in the balance.
What lesson can we learn from Moshe’s unanswered prayers? Is this story relevant to our own generation? On a simple level, Moshe’s climbs Har Nevo in lieu of entering the Land. However, a quick examination of the text proves that there is more to this incident than first meets the eye.
The first few p’sukim of our parsha depict how Moshe goes up the mountain and observes Eretz Yisrael. If climbing Har Nevo was only meant to serve as compensation for Moshe, why did the Torah provide us with such a detailed description? Clearly, the Torah has an important message for us and is not simply recounting a history of Moshe’s personal tragedy.
In order to comprehend this message, we must first answer several questions: What was so special about Har Nevo and its location? What was it that Moshe saw from the mountain’s summit? Why does the Torah repeatedly emphasize that Moshe was only permitted to see the Land “mineged” (from a distance)?
How does longing for Eretz Yisrael pertain to the land’s essence and to our identities as Israelis?
We will begin by focusing on Har Nevo itself. The mountain appears in three separate incidents in the Tanach. First, we hear about it when Moshe ascends the mountain. The Torah describes Har Nevo’s location as follows:
“Go up this Mount Avarim, Mount Nevo, which is in the land of Moav, which faces Yericho.” (Devarim 32:49)
Thus, Har Nevo looms over the valley facing Yericho, which is where Bnei Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael. In other words, Har Nevo is located at the entranceway to Eretz Yisrael.
Later, when Bilaam attempts to curse the nation, which is encamped in Arvot Moav on the eve of their entrance to the land, Har Nevo is mentioned a second time. Bilaam chooses the very same summit from which Moshe surveyed Eretz Yisrael. (Zev Ehrlich, in his book Mizrach HaYarden BiMabat Yehudi, identifies this peak as Har Nevo.) Bilaam understands that the key to entering the land is somehow connected to the site and therefore selects that specific location for his curses.
Har Nevo makes its third appearance during Eliyahu’s tempestuous ascension to the heavens. In fact, if we trace Bnei Yisrael’s path upon entering the land – from Har Nevo to the Gilgal – we will discover that Eliyahu travels the same route, yet in reverse. He leaves the Gilgal, crosses the Yarden at the exact point that Bnei Yisrael entered the land (i.e., Eretz Yisrael’s gateway), and makes his ascent from there. Har Nevo rises above the valley where he crossed the river. Ibn Ezra noted that Eliyahu ascends to the heavens from Har Nevo, which is located at Eretz Yisrael’s gateway.
Thus, Har Nevo serves as an intersection between the heavens and the earth. Eliyahu returns to heaven at this spot. Also, it is here that that the heavens “descend” to earth, when the leadership is transferred to mankind in place of the Divine leadership that guided the nation in the desert.
But what does this have to do with Moshe’s pleas? The p’sukim which describe Moshe on Har Nevo continually stress – time and again – that Moshe remained “mineged”. For example:
“For mineged (from a distance), you will see the land, but you will not come there, to the land which I am giving to Bnei Yisrael.” (Devarim 32:52)
Why this emphasis on mineged?
In 1930, the poetess Rachel interpreted mineged as longing and anticipating from afar. (In a poem entitled “Mineged”, she wrote: “The heart is attentive. The ear attends: / Did it come? Will it come? / Every anticipation contains / The sadness of Nevo.”)
Rav Kook explained that Moshe’s pleas to enter the land, his climbing Har Nevo, and his surveying mineged are all part of Moshe’s final mission. His task was to institute longing for Eretz Yisrael, because without this yearning, we would be unable to actualize our hold over the land. In Mo’adei HaRAY”H (p. 237), Rav Kook wrote:
“Important midot (qualities) that were designed to be implanted in the nation’s foundation – were developed by the Gedolei Gedolim… the midot of chessed and ahavah (love) were developed by Avraham Avinu; the midot of gevurah (fortitude) and yirah (fear) were developed by Yitzchak Avinu; and so on.
“And behold, HaKadosh Baruch Hu wanted to open the gates of a new midah, to deepen the heart of the Israeli nation, a midah of craving for Eretz Yisrael, so that even when they are in foreign lands, their eyes shall be raised to Tzion, and their hearts shall be filled with passion for the land of their forefathers. And He rose and developed this midah by means of the first messenger who was sent to redeem Yisrael.
“’I implored Hashem… Please let me cross over and see the good land.’ (Devarim 3:25) And Moshe Rabbenu’s numerous pleadings and prayers led to the development of an extra deep wellspring of craving for Eretz Yisrael whose bountiful potency suits every generation. And since then, anyone who draws from Moshe Rabbenu’s wellspring, even if he is located at a distance, yearns for Eretz Yisrael, and there is no end to the thirst, and there is no limit to the longing, because the wellspring is large and deep.”
In other words, although Moshe’s request to enter Eretz Yisrael was not specifically granted to him personally, his prayer had a longreaching effect that spanned the generations and established Am Yisrael’s wellspring of longing for Eretz Yisrael.
In our generation, we have seen how our longing and yearning for Eretz Yisrael were the only things that enabled us to return here. Throughout the millennia, each and every Jew expressed this craving in every prayer and on every festival. But it was only in our own times that our dreams were transformed into reality. Nonetheless, we must always remember that the key to entering and holding on to Eretz Yisrael is our longing and emotional attachment to the land.
Thus, we can say that Moshe’s ascension of Har Nevo and his pleas to enter the land comprise the platform whereby Eretz Yisrael was given its very essence. Moreover, this can be equated to Moshe’s ascension of Har Sinai, where the Torah was given to Am Yisrael. A comparison of the p’sukim describing the proceedings at these mountains reveals that the two are, in fact, connected. Furthermore, both involve events which impacted the nation’s fundamental nature and core.
In both cases, Moshe was commanded to go up in order to encounter Hashem; the people remained below at the foot of the mountain; Yehoshua escorted Moshe; and Moshe ascended alone. Yet, there was one difference. At Har Sinai, the nation stayed “mineged” (literally, opposite) the mountain, and Moshe went up and entered. But at Har Nevo, Moshe remained mineged, and we were the ones who merited entering.
The wellspring that was opened during Moshe’s supplications continues to irrigate our longings for Eretz Yisrael. However, this time we must not remain mineged.