Parshas Chukas: Awaiting Redemption
In this week’s parsha, Chukas, our three great leaders - Miriam, Moshe and Aharon - meet their end on ever la’Yarden (the eastern side of the Jordan River). Miriam dies in Kadesh; Moshe and Aharon are banned forever from the Holy Land; and Aharon dies atop Hor Ha’Hor (Bamidbar Ch.20).
When we read this parsha, do we mourn for our leaders who never merited to walk the breadth and depth of Eretz Yisrael? Do we recall that Moshe asked five hundred and fifteen times to be allowed to enter the Land (515 is the Gematria - numeric equivalent - of the word וָאֶתְחַנַּן, And I implored G-d at that time [Devarim 3:23], when Moshe repeatedly davened for the Divine decree to be rescinded)? Do we appreciate the severity of the punishment, handed down swiftly from Above, banning our leaders from the Land of Israel? Or, perhaps, are we so used to the story of Moshe’s end that we forget the impact of this gezeirah (Divine decree); not only on Moshe as a leader, but its effect on Jewish destiny.
R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “In studying the parshios dealing with end of Moshe’s life, we are confronted with a touching tragedy - the tragedy of a teacher who was too great for his pupils, of the master who is too exalted, too deep, too profound for his generation. It is the tragedy of the rebbe who has boundless knowledge, unlimited inspiration, sweeping erudition, is great in every respect, but whom his generation does not appreciate. Moshe died because his nation was not worthy of him…
“The failure of Moshe to enter the Land changed Jewish history, because had he entered Eretz Yisrael, the people never would have been exiled. Moshe would have been anointed as Moshiach, Jewish history would have found its ultimate fulfillment and realization. If Bnei Yisrael had proven themselves worthy of communing with Moshe, of being his disciples, if they would have had the receptive intellectual and emotional capacity to absorb Toras Moshe immediately, then Moshe would have entered and conquered the Promised Land. No opposing power, no matter how great, could have exiled the Jews…
“Moshe was ready to be Moshiach. However, the Messianic era depends on the people being ready as well. If Moshe’s message had the necessary impact on the people, this would have been the generation that heralded Moshiach. Because his students instead behaved like the freed slaves on the previous generation, the Messianic era was postponed for a very long time. Moshe had to die without entering the Land… Only when the people are ready to fully commit themselves to Moshe’s teachings and he is accepted as teacher by the entire nation, with all willing to be his disciples, will the hour of redemption arrive” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Bamidbar, p.164-165).
The Thursday before last, my family and I took a “tour” (for lack of a better word) of the Har Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem. It was one of the most meaningful 3.5 hours I ever spent. The sacrifices for our Land are many, too many, and young, too young. We stood before the kevarim of Uriel Peretz and his brother, Eliraz. We stood before Max Steinberg’s kever. We paid our respects to Shlomo Auman. We learned the story of the fall of the Etzion Bloc, as we visited the section of the graves of the kedoshim who fell in their attempt to defend the Etzion Bloc. We stood before rows and rows of graves, on that hot June day, in our holy city, in our holy land. We visited the final resting place (Baruch Hashem!) of Zechariah Shlomo Baumel, whose tzitzis - which were returned with his remains - lie next to his matzeivah (tombstone). We stood in awe before young men and women, holy Jews, who fell defending our people and our Land; HY”D z’l. And we cried at the incomprehensible loss of life that this Land demands.
Had Moshe entered the Land, he would have been Moshiach, and Jewish destiny would have been fulfilled. No churban, no destruction, no exile; no if’s, and’s or but’s. No waiting, no “ani Ma’amin b’emunah shalaimoh b’vi’yas ha’Moshiach,” it would have all been unnecessary. And alas… it was not meant to be.
So while we give thanks to Hashem for the tremendous and unbelievable gift of Medinat Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, we must remember the final redemption has not yet arrived. We still await its coming. As we prepare to enter the Three Weeks of Mourning for Churban Tzion v’Yerushalayim, let us pray for the final geula.
Dovid Golovanchic, twenty-two years old, was killed in an IDF training accident, in July 2017. At a Yom Tefilla in Efrat, Dovid’s mother, Esther told the following story: A student of the Baal Shem Tov (BeSh”T) (d.1760) wanted to go visit Eretz Yisrael. He went to the BeSh”T before his departure to get a bracha for his trip. The BeSh”T gave him his blessings but said to him: Rememer one thing. When people ask you questions, think before you answer. With that, he gave him his bracha and the talmid went on his way.
He came to Eretz Yisrael and enjoyed seeing the land, he marveled at its beauty and holiness. Before he was ready to travel back to his hometown, he went to the Kotel. A man came over to him and asked him what his name was and where he was from. He said, "I am a talmid of the Baal Shem Tov, have you heard of him?" The man said, "Yes I have." "Tell me," the man said to the talmid, "How is it in your hometown in galus, I heard it is hard." The talmid replied, "Yes it is hard in galus, but B”H, we are managing." And with that the talmid went on his way and returned home.
After several months, he went to the Baal Shem Tov to tell him about his trip. The BeSh”T said to him, "Tell me did you remember what I said to you, did you think before you answered questions." The talmid said, “Yes rebbe I was very careful." He told the BeSh”T of the man he met at the Kotel, whom he answered and said: yes it is hard in galus but B'H we are managing. The Baal Shem Tov looked at him sadly and replied, "My dear talmid, the man at the Kotel was Eliyahu Hanavi… and you told him we are managing. If you would have said that we cannot manage even one more day in exile, Moshiach would have come” (told over by Zahava Farbman, Soul Sisters, 7.20.18).
May we merit to witness the fulfillment of Jewish destiny, with peace and tranquility for our people and our Land, amen. בברכת שבת שלום.