Iyunim - Weekly insights on the Parasha with commentaries by Nehama Leibovitz, za"l

Moses Man of God

The last sidra of the Torah contains Moses' parting benediction to the tribes, to the whole people and the record of his death and burial.

In the opening verse, Moses is given a title that has never been accorded him previously in the Torah:

And this is the blessing, wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel, before his death. (33, 1)

Some commentators consider that this title was accorded him to stress the prophetic origin and force of the words he utters there; that they did not merely proceed from his own mouth, but were endowed with Divine authority. This is the view of Ebn Ezra.An opposite view is taken by other commentators including Hirsch. The title implies, on the contrary, that these were Moses' own words; that of the faithful shepherd of his flock, bidding farewell to his people. In contradistinction to the Song he taught the people in Ha'azinu and, for that matter, the rest of-·his utterances in the Torah which were, as is often stated: "according to the mouth of the Lord". For this reason, the Torah underlines the fact that though it was Moses who uttered these words. it should be remembered that Moses was nevertheless "the man of God" The author of the commentary Ha 'amek Davar sees a connection between the title "man of God" and the timing. It was accorded to Moses just before his death:

With death at hand. there was enkindled in Moses a Divine flame. Like a flickering candle that bursts into brilliant flame just before it burns out, so that soul of the righteous man on departing this world and about to enter the Hereafter, rises aloft with a spiritual impetus more in tune with its own ethereal nature... Moses then attained the highest degree of spiritual perfection.
However, he is accorded yet another title in the very last action associated with him, a title that had previously been employed by the Almighty when He rebuked Miriam and Araon for speaking ill of Moses and comparing themselves with him. There God called him: "My servant Moses'' (Numbers 12, 7) which is, no doubt, the highest honour that could be paid him:

So Moses the servant of the Lord died there. (34, 5)

The same title was accorded him in the book of Joshua when God entrusted the leadership of Israel to Joshua with the words:

Moses my servant is dead.

There exists a wealth of Midrashic legends associated with Moses' last moments. on his hearing the ominous tidings: "Behold thy days approach that thou must die", especially with regard to his pleadings with the Almighty to release him from, or postpone for him, the fate of all mankind. Here we shall quote one extract from the Midrash on our sidra dealing with this theme.

Rabbi Phinchas said: When Moses was about to depart this world. God said to him. "Behold thy days approach to die". Whereupon Moses replied: Master of the Universe, after all my labours, thou sayest unto me: "Behold thy days approach to die?" (Deuteronomy 31, 14). "I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord"(Psalm 118. 17). Thereupon God said: You cannot prevail in this matter: "For this is the destiny of all men" (Ecclesiastes 12, 13). Moses then said: ask of Thee one favour before I die, that as I enter the Hereafter, all the gates of Heaven and the deep be opened for them to see that there is none beside Thee. Whence this? For it is said: "Know this day and lay it to thine heart, that the Lord he is God...there is none else" (Deuteronomy 4, 39). Whereupon God replied: You declare: "There is none else ." I too say: "And no one else (od) hath arisen in Israel like unto Moses..." (Deuteronomy 34, 10). (Devarim Rabbah 11. 5)
Here Moses' request is not to see the Holy Land, to lead Israel thereto, or to fight their battles. He wishes his days to be prolonged that he may "declare the works of the Lord" and at any rate, if that could not be granted him, that he should, at least, be vouchsafed one, last, great miracle which would open the eyes of everyone to perceive that "there is none beside Thee". In other words, Moses who understood the working of human nature, who knew that. though the Israelites had witnessed the plagues of Egypt, the departure from exile, the wonders of the Red Sea and their forty years' wanderings in the wilderness the manna, quails, the pillar of cloud and fire and, above all, the Revelation at Sinai, Moses was well aware that, in spite of all this; "For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves and turn aside from the way..." (Deuteronomy 31, 29). He therefore requested one favour, that he should be vouchsafed a final miracle, granting his people a true perception of the exclusive omnipotence and omniscience of Divine existence:

That all the gates of Heaven and the deep be opened for them to see that there is none beside Thee, as it is said: "Know therefore this day, and lay it to thine heart, that the Lord He is God in Heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else".
What is the implication of the Divine reply, the apparent play on the word 'od: "You declare there is none else ('od). I too say And no one else ('od) hath arisen in Israel like unto Moses". God answers that Moses' request has already been acceded to, as far as possible, without infringing on man's free will. There is no more clearer revelation of God than the contents of the Torah itself, Torat Mosheh -- as it is termed, in which it is related regarding:

All the signs and wonders, which the Lord sent him to do in the land Egypt, to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land. And in all that mighty hand, and in all the great awe which Moses showed in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy end)
What Moses had requested had already been granted. All the gates of Heaven and the deep had been opened and "unto thee it was shown for thee to know that the Lord He is God; there is none else beside Him'' (4, 35).
This same thought that our Torah is the supreme example of Divine Revelation to mankind is expressed in the Psalmist's eulogy of the Torah:

The Law (Torah) of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul, The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eye. (Psalms 19, 8-9)
In contradistinction to the spiritual clarity of Divine Revelation in the Torah "enlightening the eyes", Moses' end, as described therein, constitutes a mysterious and unknown chapter:

And he buried him in the valley, in the land of Moab over against Beth Peor: but no man knoweth of his burying unto this day. (34 6)
The very subject of the sentence "And he buried him" is mysterious and unexplained, an impression that is intensified by the end of the verse "that no man knoweth of his burying..."

Note also that it does not say, kivro, his "burial place'', but kevurato, his "burying" referring to both the mode and location of his burial.

The Ralbag's (Rabbi Levi ben Gershon. Gersonides) comment on this verse is particularly illuminating and sounds the most plausible of all that has been said on this subject:

It is indeed a very strange phenomenon that as much as the Torah took great pains to describe the exact location of Moses grave: "in the Land of Moab, in the valley, over against Beth Peor", in spite of all this. the Holy One blessed be He so devised it that no man knoweth of his burial place, so that generations to come should not go astray and worship him as a deity.

 

 

 

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07 Sep 2005 / 3 Elul 5765 0