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Midrash

Parasha

Va'etchanan

Why Moshe was not privileged to be buried in Eretz Yisrael

Ori Engelman

Writer:

Another thing: Rabbi Levi says he (Moshe) said to God: “Master of the Universe, Yosef’s bones will enter the Land, while I will not.”  The Holy One, blessed be He replied: “The one who admitted his Land will be buried in her, the one who did not admit his Land will not be buried in her.” When his mistress said “Look, he has brought a Hebrew man to us …” [Bereishit 39:14] not only did Yosef not deny this, but later he himself said “I was kidnapped from the Land of the Hebrews …” [ibid. 40:15] (Therefore) Yosef was buried in his Land, as the verse states “Yosef’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried in Shechem …” [Yehoshua 24:32] “You did not admit your Land will not be buried within her.” How is this? The daughters of Yitro said “An Egyptian man rescued us from the shepherds …” [Shemot 2:19] and Moshe heard and remained silent; therefore he will not be buried in his Land.

[Devarim Rabba 2:8]

 

The Midrash expresses Moshe’s question to God – why Yosef’s bones are brought to burial in the Land, while he is not allowed to enter the Land even after death. God’s answer is that Yosef did not deny his origins in the Land of the Hebrews, while Moshe allowed himself to be called “an Egyptian man” without correcting Yitro’s daughters, telling them he was a Hebrew. This difference between Yosef and Moshe is the reason Moshe Rabbeinu did not merit being buried in Eretz Yisrael. 

We have two questions on this Midrash:

1) The simple implication (p’shat) of the pesukim (verses) is that Yitro’s daughters told their father that an Egyptian rescued them from the shepherds and they subsequently invited Moshe to dine with them. Thus, Moshe would have been unaware that he had been called an Egyptian; this being the case, how can Moshe be considered as on who did not admit his Land?

2) Why was Moshe reprimanded for “not admitting his Land,” when, in fact he was Egyptian born and never entered Eretz Yisrael?

We shall begin with the first question, explaining the simple meaning of the posuk.

They returned to their father Reuel, and he asked, "Why have you come back so quickly today?" They answered, "An Egyptian man rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock." "So where is he?" he asked his daughters. "Why then did you leave the man behind? Invite him to eat dinner." Moshe agreed to stay with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moshe (in marriage). Shemot 2:18-20

As noted, it would seem that the comment “an Egyptian man rescued us” was not made in Moshe’s presence; however, deeper reflection indicates a broader picture. It is possible that the appellation “an Egyptian man” was given to Moshe at his first meeting with Yitro. There are a number of factors which bolster this assumption:

1) It is reasonable to assume that Moshe was dressed as an Egyptian, and when he spoke to Yitro it was either in Egyptian or with an Egyptian accent; thus Yitro naturally would have assumed Moshe to be an Egyptian, and Moshe allowed Yitro’s assumption to stand, not making it clear that he was a Hebrew.

2) While Moshe may not have heard the daughters’ reference to him as an Egyptian, upon meeting Yitro, no doubt there would have been a discussion of Moshe’s origins, giving Moshe the opportunity to present himself as a Hebrew rather than as an Egyptian. Moshe apparently did not so present himself.

Indeed, Rabbi Kook zt”l comments that Moshe should have been aware that, based on his dress and language, Yitro would assume him to be an Egyptian, and should have corrected this misconception.

 

Every Jew is a “Child of Eretz Yisrael”

We may note that for Moshe Rabbeinu, presenting himself as a Hebrew would have been a life-saving matter (pikuaḥ nefesh), since revealing himself as an Egyptian would risk his extradition to face punishment for having killed the Egyptian who stuck a Hebrew. [ibid. 11-12,15]

Moshe Rabbeinu’s failure to present himself as a Hebrew is not a sin per se and he was not punished for this failure; rather denying him entry to Eretz Yisrael was punishment for his sin at Mei Meriva. However, had Moshe presented himself as a Hebrew, he would have been buried in Eretz Yisrael as a token of respect for the Land.

The Ḥassidic Master of Ostrovtza (Rabbi Yeḥezkel Holstock 1886 – 1942) presents a fascinating answer to our second question, saying of himself:

I am from Eretz Yisrael, though as the result of our sins we were exiled from her and I find myself in Ostrovtza. Whenever a Jew is asked where he is from, he must answer “I am from Eretz Yisrael, though I am temporarily dwelling in the diaspora.”

Thus, although Moshe was not born in Eretz Yisrael, the Midrash criticizes him for not having admitted his Land.

Movingly, in the speech he gave upon receiving the Nobel Prize for literature, Shai Agnon paraphrased the Rebbe of Ostrovtza:

Due to the historic catastrophe in which Titus, king of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and exiled Israel from its Land, I was born in one of the towns of the diaspora. However, at all times I have considered myself as one who was born in Jerusalem. In my dream at night I had a vision of myself standing in the Temple, singing the songs of David, King of Israel along with my fellow Levi’im. Such pleasantness has not been heard by human ears since our city was destroyed and the nation exiled. I suspect that the angels who are responsible for the palace of song fear that I will sing awake that which I sang in my dream and therefore caused me to forget what I had sung at night; for if my brothers, the sons of my nation had heard the songs, they would be unable to bear their pain over the great goodness they have lost. To compensate for the songs of the mouth which have been taken from me, I have been given the ability to create songs in writing.

The comment of the Rebbe of Ostravza has its foundations in the holy mountains [Tehillim (Psalms) 87:1]. The connection between every Jew and Eretz Yisrael is so deep and so basic that even one who was not born in her or never visited the Land is indeed a (spiritual) native of Eretz Yisrael.

Thus, we understand that Eretz Yisrael is not merely a geographic location, not simply the dwelling place of Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel), in which the nation established its state; she is the spiritual homeland of every single Jew and is connected with each Jew with living bonds. By way of analogy, at times, tragic circumstances dictate that a child will have to be raised by a foster family; however, that child will always be connected to and identify with his biological parents. This is the connection between every Jew and Eretz Yisrael, and the reason every Jew is from Eretz Yisrael.

 

One Who Was Born in Her and One Who Looks Forward to Seeing Her – Practical Halacha

Even more astounding is that this rule has practical halachic implications. During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire decreed that citizens of countries at war with her will be exiled from Israel. However, one born in Israel was entitled to Ottoman citizenship and would be allowed to remain in Israel after filing a sworn affidavit that he was in fact born in Israel. Rabbi Y. L. Maimon (one of the leaders of Mizrachi, a signer of Israel’s declaration of independence and its first minister of religious affairs) and his friend Rabbi Citron (the rabbi of Petacḥ Tikva) were both Russian born; the rabbis neither wanted to be exiled from Israel nor to swear falsely that they were born in Israel. Rabbi Citron addressed the question to his father in law, the Rogatchover Gaon (Rabbi Yosef Rosen 1858 – 1925). Based upon the Talmudic elucidation (Gemara Ketubot 75a) of the posuk in Tehillim [87:5] “And of Zion it shall be said, this man and this man were born in her …” to mean “Both one who was (actually) born in her and one who looks forward to seeing her (are equally considered sons of Zion),” the Rogatchover decided, as a practical halacha, that regardless of where he was physically born, a Jew may honestly swear that he was born in Eretz Yisrael.

 

Summary

We dealt with the Midrash which teaches the reason Moshe was not privileged to be buried in Eretz Yisrael. We began with explaining the p’shat of the verses quoted by the Midrash, proceeding to answer an additional question by presenting the basic concept that every Jew is considered as having been born in Israel, This concept is not simply one of belief and outlook, but carries practical halachic meaning as well, according to the comment of the Rebbe of Ostrovtza and the halachic decision of the Rogatchover Gaon.

May it be God’s will that we feel connected to Eretz Yisrael both spiritually and physically; “One who was (actually) born in her and one who looks forward to seeing her.”

May we soon merit the full redemption and benefit from the spiritual and physical grace of the Land. Amen.

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