As he continues his farewell address to the Israelites, Moshe once again describes the Promised Land in glowing terms. “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey; a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9)
As we admire Moshe’s travel agent-worthy advertisement for the Land of Israel, let’s take a moment to remember why he doesn’t get to set foot in it. Back in Numbers 20, in the episode of the Waters of Merivah, Moshe hits the rock instead of speaking to it, and God bans him and Aharon. Of the many explanations of that seemingly over-the-top punishment, the one that always grabs me is that it wasn’t Moshe’s physical actions, but his words to the Israelites right before whacking the rock: “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10).
The juxtaposition of these two passages reminds me of something a respected colleague said to my rabbinical school senior class: “It’s easy to be a rabbi because you love Judaism; it’s harder, and more important, to be a rabbi and love Jews.” Moshe clearly loves both the Land of Israel and the People of Israel, but it’s with the latter that he experiences and displays greater frustration. On Shabbat morning, I’d like to reflect on this challenge, with some thoughts about what it means to be a People in these turbulent times.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,