This Shabbat we are starting seven weeks in which the Shabbat reading is special. This is the first Shabbat of the seven weeks before the High Holidays.
This Shabbat of July 24, 2021 is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort Ye My People. The reason for this name is that the reading from the Haftarah (the prophets) is from Isaiah 40:1-26. We are also reading from the Torah from Deuteronomy 3:23 to 7:11.
The name of this Torah portion in Hebrew is Va’etchanan, “and I begged”. Moses is begging the Lord to allow him to cross the Jordan River into the promised land… From the New Testament we read this Sabbath from Mark 8:23-28.
We are entering a very solemn period of contemplation in our lives in which we measure ourselves against the standards that the Lord has set before us His instructions in the Torah and the prophets and the writings, and the apostolic writings.
The beginning of the Torah reading starts with the words of Moses:
“Then I pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying: ‘O Lord God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand, for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do anything like Your works and Your mighty deeds? I pray, let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.’” – Deuteronomy 3:23–25 [NKJV]
These are the words of Moses begging God for a small favor: “let me cross the Jordan River.” We all remember the revelation of God to Moses after Moses argued with the Lord and said that he would not lead the people of Israel unless the Lord Himself went along with the people of Israel.
In Exodus 34:6, Lord showed Moses His back side and revealed His nature to Moses in person:
“And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth…’” – Exodus 34:6 [NKJV]
This same God, the Lord Himself that has on his name plate, the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,” now is refusing to allow Moses, the same Moses that stood before the burning bush on Mount Sinai and spoke to God. The same Moses who told Pharaoh, “let my people go!” The same Moses whom God said about him:
“Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.” – Numbers 12:3 [NKJV]
This is what intrigued me most in this Shabbat’s reading of the Torah. God refusing Moses the small favor that Moses begged for, a seemingly insignificant favor for such a great servant of God, like Moses.
What is it for God to allow the great leader that gave up the position of Prince of Egypt, to join and save his people, the people of Israel, and to bring them from slavery into freedom. Why does God have such a stubborn attitude and not bend a little for Moses and just allow him to cross the Jordan and step into the promised Land?
In my opinion it is important for our understanding of God. Yes, we know that “God is love.” We also know that God is merciful and gracious and full of loving kindness. We also know that:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” – John 3:16,17 [NKJV]
With all this in mind the question still lingers why did the Almighty refuse Moses this small favor and essentially Moses dies outside of the borders of the promised land, he dies across the Jordan River. He does not even receive a proper burial and no one knows his tomb.
Here is my idea why God is seemingly so hard on Moses: God has promised Israel that those who sinned against Him in the wilderness will not enter into His rest:
“For forty years I was grieved with that generation, And said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, And they do not know My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘they shall not enter My rest.’” – Psalm 95:10,11 [NKJV]
We see that the generation that left Egypt and experienced the crossing of the Red Sea on dry land is not entering the land of promise. The question that needs to be asked is this: Is God being cruel toward Moses or doing Moses a big favor?
Here is why I think that God was being wise and kind to Moses:
First, every leader needs to know when it is time to step down and allow the young leaders to take responsibility without interference. God had instructed Moses to pass the baton to Joshua the son of Nun. Moses did it right and Joshua accepted the challenge.
Second, Moses had sinned and ignored God’s instruction and allowed his emotions and anger to be the best of him and in place of talking to the rock he struck the rock. This does not seem a big sin, but under the circumstances we see that the Lord took it very seriously especially because of Moses’ issue with his speech.
Did Moses in his old age again lose his confidence in his ability to speak? Not sure, but it is clear that God who knew well the limitation of speaking that Moses had, still commanded him to speak to the rock. The mistake of Moses was not banging the rock with his staff, it was returning in his old age to being the old Moses that lost his temper and killed the Egyptian (Exodus 2). It was a consequential act that sent Moses to the school of hard knocks for 40 years as a shepherd of Jethro’s flocks in the wilderness of Sinai.
The other thing that happened on that occasion is that Moses took credit for bringing the water from the rock for the people to drink. This was a much more serious issue that gave the Lord the final decision, that in spite of all of the greatness and humility and leadership of Moses, it was time to pass the leadership to the younger and more dynamic leadership of Joshua the son of Nun. Joshua was already a seasoned leader and it was not someone who was new or strange to the people of Israel.
Third, allowing Moses to cross the Jordan with the children of Israel would be a sign to the people that Moses was not really comfortable and fully trusting in the new leadership of Joshua and the other men like Caleb. These men had proven their faithfulness to God and their faith and trust in the Lord’s leadership of this nation of slaves that was ready to enter into the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Finally, Moses ought to have expressed his gratitude to God for his being allowed to go to the top of Mount Pisga, Nebo, and see the land of promise.
In our Torah portion it seems like Moses is still upset that God didn’t allow him to cross the Jordan. He also blames the nation of Israel for this refusal of the Lord to allow him to cross.
I don’t hold the attitude of Moses in this Torah portion against him. On the contrary, I hold his sorrow and mild anger against the Lord and the people as being one of the wonderful and divine revelations that added to the greatness and humanity of this great man of God, Moses!
He was not a perfect man. He was 100% human with all of his human greatnesses and also with all of his human weaknesses. How wonderful that the Lord can use normal human beings and make them great leaders and great humble servants of the Lord and of His people.
Just imagine what would happen to a pastor or a rabbi that was 40 days and nights in the presence of God Almighty on top of Mount Sinai. Just imagine a pastor who saved his congregation from a sure death at the hands of the enemy.
The normal pastor would be puffed up like a 100-pound turkey and think that he deserves service and a bigger salary and a new fancy car and people’s praise and even worship. I know pastors who have done very little for their people, but they are great motivational speakers, and speak without a stutter, who have become millionaires and have greater demands for perks than Queen Victoria.
Not Moses. He did understand his place in God’s array of servants, and although he was raised for his first 40 years as the prince of Egypt, he remained humble, but with a little normal human bitterness when the Lord told him, “No Moses you are not going to cross the Jordan River and enter the land of promise.”
I am also happy that no one knows the grave of Moses! It was a grand and divine scheme of the Creator Himself to keep the grave of Moses hidden and a secret.
You can imagine what would happen if the children of Israel knew where Moses was buried! There would be shrines and monuments and places of worship and museums built in honor of Moses. No, God did the wise thing and didn’t destroy the humanity and humility of Moses, and kept it even after his death.
There are so many great lessons that we can all learn from Moses and his relationship to the Almighty God of Israel, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. Keep reading the Torah!
This article originally appeared on Netivyah and reposted with permission.