Questions and Suggested Answers
Based on the writings of Nehama Leibowitz
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. Deuteronomy (34, 6)
Ralbag on the above verse also states: We may observe too, that they went astray with regard to the copper serpent that Moshe made, on account of the renowned character of its author (see 2 Kings (18,4)). It was to preclude such a development that the Lord buried him in this mysterious fashion, untouched by human hand.
Where do we find in the Torah and Talmud expressions of this tendency to avert the possibility of deification of Jewish saints by succeeding generations?
The grave of Aharon remains inaccessible to the Israelites. The Yalkut Shimoni Midrash points out that God sealed the cave in the mountain (Hor Ha’Har) on which Aharon was buried. In reference to the cave of Machpelah, whose location is described in the Torah, it is noteworthy to ponder the commentary of Abravenel (15th century) on our Parasha. He points out that whereas the grave of Moshe was concealed so that it not ever be converted into a shrine for idolators, the graves of the Patriarchs in Hebron is “today” in the hands of the Moslems who have built a mosque on top of the site.
In the Jerusalem Talmud we find in Tractate Sh’kalim chapter 2, the Mishna quoting Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel: “no monument need be put up for the righteous; their words are their monument.”
What unusual wording in the text is explained away by Ralbag’s approach?
The first half of the verse pinpoints the location of Moshe’s grave in elaborate detail. The second half then informs us that nobody knows its location. Thus the two halves of the verse seem to contradict each other. According to Ralbag the Torah is highlighting the event of Moshe’s proper burial while at the same time deliberately withholding possible access to the site.
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman veteran yeshiva educator (USA) now residing in Jerusalem