Aged, tired, and having lived a full life unparalleled by any other man in history, Moshe finds himself finally ready to retire to his eternal reward. “VaYomer Aleihem Ben Meiah VeEsrim Shanah Anochi HaYom Lo Uchal Od LaTzeit VeLaVo,” “And [Moshe] said to them, ‘I am 120 years old and I can no longer come and go’” (Devarim 31:2). At this point in his life, Moshe finds himself excluded from ever entering Eretz Yisrael, and he is forced to appoint Yehoshua to replace him as the leader of Bnei Yisrael. However, this raises the following controversial question: why exactly was Moshe barred from entering the Promised Land? One would think that after years of striving and struggling to reach such a goal, Moshe is surely deserving of bearing the fruits of his labor. It is puzzling that Moshe should be restricted and forced to appoint Yehoshua to take over.
To understand this question, some backtracking must take place. It is a popular belief that Moshe was disallowed from entering Eretz Yisrael due to sinning at Mei Merivah, as Hashem states, “Al Asheir Me’altem Bi BeToch Bnei Yisrael BeMei Merivat Kadeish Midbar Tzin,” “…because you have affronted me amidst Bnei Yisrael at Mei Merivah in the desert of Tzin” (Devarim 32:51). However, Moshe himself provides a different reasoning. Earlier in Sefer Devarim, after Moshe recounts his prayer for Bnei Yisrael following the sin of the Meraglim, Moshe says, “Gam Bi Hit’anaf Hashem Biglalchem Leimor Gam Atah Lo Tavo Sham,” “Also with me was Hashem angry because of you [Bnei Yisrael], saying, ‘You too will not enter there’” (1:37). Seemingly, Moshe is blaming his punishment on the sin of the Meraglim. However, this raises many questions. Why would Moshe be punished for the sin of Bnei Yisrael? Moreover, what right does Moshe have to pinpoint his punishment to a single cause? Not even Moshe understands Hashem’s ways that well!
To answer these questions, a greater understanding is necessary as to what exactly Moshe meant by blaming his punishment on the sin of the Meraglim. Moshe wasn’t claiming that, because of the Cheit HaMeraglim, he was punished and not allowed to enter the land. Rather, he was saying that this sin was what eventually led to Moshe erring and thereby being barred from entering Eretz Yisrael. This episode depicts a turning point in Bnei Yisrael and Moshe’s relationship. When sent to report on the land, representatives of Bnei Yisrael return with a completely pessimistic report, focusing solely on the negative things that they saw, and spinning the facts to make them appear worse than they are. This negativity was a personal blow to Moshe’s opinion of Bnei Yisrael and their future. While Moshe would continue to fight for and champion the cause of Bnei Yisrael before Hashem, he began to see Bnei Yisrael from a solely negative light, and the feelings were reciprocated. Immediately following the story of the Meraglim, Korach challenges Moshe’s authority. Moreover, the Zekeinim begin to take a role in leading Bnei Yisrael, as Moshe further distances himself from interacting with this negative-minded nation. Moshe’s justifiably negative outlook toward Bnei Yisrael slowly enlarges the rift between Bnei Yisrael and Moshe, as Moshe becomes more and more the leader of the past generation, not the new one. As such, when the time finally comes to enter Eretz Yisrael, a younger leader who is more connected to the people is necessary. We see this charisma and positivity in Yehoshua by his close association with two words, “Chazak VeEmatz,” “Be strong and courageous” (31:7). Yehoshua embodies this idea of strength and vitality amongst Bnei Yisrael, as is evident by the repeated use of this phrase in association with Yehoshua (for example, see Yehoshua 1:6-9). As such, he is the positive and charismatic leader required to lead Bnei Yisrael into the Promised Land. Sometimes, one’s outlook is more important than one’s actions. This is especially true for a leader. As Moshe willingly drifted apart from the nation that he, on previous occasions, referred to as “Ra’ah,” evil, his leadership role began to dwindle. As such, Yehoshua’s positive outlook took over.
This lesson is an essential one for all of us. In Garth Stein’s novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Stein articulates a powerful life lesson for all. “That which manifests itself is before you.” We write our own destiny and create our own future. If such a holy giant in Torah such as Moshe can feel the adverse effects of a negative outlook, we should be all the more cautious. The Gemara (Taanit 21a) tells of Nachum Ish Gam Zu, a man who, whenever anything happened, good or bad, said “Gam Zu LeTovah,” “This, too, is for the better.” We see from this teaching of Chazal that one of the Judaic ideals is the ability to maintain a positive outlook even in the face of tragedy and negativity. May we all utilize this lesson and brighten up our lives, as well as those of others, with a positive and hopeful disposition.