Moshe’s Final Days by Chanan Strassman

(2004/5765)

Now that Bnei Yisrael are about to enter Eretz Yisrael, there is one loose end for Hashem to tie up, that is, how to go about the death of Moshe Rabbeinu.  The issue at hand is that we are not dealing with an average person whose time has arrived to pass on.  If that were the case, Hashem would not need to inform Moshe of his impending doom, but would rather dispatch the Malach Hamavet, or Angel of Death, without warning.  However, this is not the case in Parshat Haazinu.  Here, we are dealing with the greatest prophet to ever walk the earth, a man of unfathomable Kedushah, and the only person ever to speak face to face with Hashem.  Moshe’s death, unlike the average person’s, cannot be a sudden surprise.  Thus, Hashem gives Moshe ample notice of his unfortunate yet inevitable fate.

                The Torah first tells us about Moshe’s death in Parshat Pinchas.  There, in Bamidbar 27:12-14, Hashem tells Moshe to “Go up to this mountain of Avarim and see the land that I have given to the Children of Israel.  You shall see it and you shall be brought in to your people, you, too, as Aharon your brother was brought in; because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin…”  Rashi explains this reference to Aharon to mean that just as Aharon died by the “kiss of Hashem,” Moshe wished to die in a similar fashion.  Rashi offers another explanation that just as Aharon did not merit entering the land of Israel because he failed to sanctify Hashem, the same goes for Moshe.  The fact is, Hashem is telling Moshe that he will soon die.  Consequently, in Haazinu, Hashem reminds Moshe of his previous decision.  In Devarim 32:48-52, Hashem tells Moshe, “Ascend to this mountain of Aravim, Har Nevo, which is in the land of Moav, which is before Jericho, and see the land of Canaan that I give to the children of Israel as an inheritance, and die on the mountain where you will ascend…”

Interestingly, Hashem’s “attitude” toward Moshe is different in Parshat Haazinu, than in Pinchas.  In Parshat Pinchas, the Torah uses the word “Vayomer,” that is, “Hashem said to Moshe,” whereas in Parshat Haazinu the Torah uses the word “Vayidaber,” that is, “Hashem spoke to Moshe.”  Typically, when the Torah uses the word “Vayomer” the tone of the speaker is soft, but when the Torah uses the word “Vayidaber” the tone is harsh.  If each time Hashem is telling Moshe the same message, what difference does it make whether the Torah uses “Vayidaber” or “Vayomer”?  Why is Hashem’s attitude soft in Parshat Pinchas, but harsh in parshat Haazinu?

                Naturally, Moshe would rather stay in this world, and enter the land of Israel, than die.  So when Hashem tells him in Parshat Pinchas that things will not turn out that way, He speaks softly to placate Moshe.  However, once Moshe’s time came to pass on, Hashem got to the point.  He told Moshe that his time had come, and that he would “die on the mountain where you will ascend.”  The harsher language was necessary the second time around because Hashem wanted Moshe to know that he would not be able to Daven his way out of death and into the land of Israel.

Moshe Rabbeinu’s death is remembered even today.  The day he died, the 7th of Adar, we do not say Tachanun in our daily prayers.  In some communities, the Chevra Kedisha even fast on that day.  He may not have walked us into the land of Israel, but his leadership and wisdom set a precedent for those prophets and kings that were yet to come.  Moshe may be leaving our weekly Parshiot now, but cheer up!  Rosh Hashanah is coming and we will soon be reading the Torah anew, bringing Moshe back in all of his glory next year.  Shanah Tovah.

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