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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Deuteronomy/Dvarim - Ha'azinu
Preventing Moshe's Death
Posted 2007 - Contributed by Asher ben Shimon
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This week's Torah portion Ha'azinu is known for it's lengthy explanation by Torah's foremost commentator, Rashi. Let us delve into the depth of one of those explanations.

"And Hashem spoke to Moshe on that very day". The Torah uses the phrase "On that very day" in three places:

First, regarding Noach, the Torah states, "On that very day Noach entered [the ark]" that day referring to the glare of full daylight. Noah's contemporaries said: "We swear by such and such, that if we notice him about to enter the ark, we will not let him proceed! Moreover, we will take axes and hatchets and split open the ark!" So Hashem said: "I will have Noach enter at midday, and let anyone who has the power to prevent it, come and prevent it!"

Second, regarding Egypt, The Torah states, "On that very day, Hashem brought [the Jewish people] out [of the land of Egypt]". The Egyptians said: "We swear by such and such, that if we notice them about to leave, we will stop them! And not only that, but we will take swords and other weapons, and kill them!" So, Hashem, said: "I will bring them out in the middle of the day, and let anyone who has power to prevent it, come and prevent it!"

Thirdly, regarding Moshe's death, the Torah states, "On that very day." The Jewish people said, "We swear by such and such, that if we notice Moshe [ascending the mountain to die], we will not let him do so for he is the man who brought us out of Egypt, split the Red Sea for us, brought the manna down for us, made flocks of quails fly over to us, brought up the well for us, and gave us the Torah-we will not let him!" Thereupon, Hashem, said: "I will have Moshe ascend the mountain [to his resting place] in the middle of the day!" - [Sifri 32:47]

What bothered Rashi that prompted him to explain these words?

This we can explain easily. Last week we read in Vayelech that Moshe addressed the Jewish nation before he passed away. The portion of Ha'azinu comes as a continuation of that speech. There is therefore no reason to mention again that the speech was given `On that day'. From this repetition Rashi understood that the Torah is trying to give over a message hidden in the words `On that VERY day'.

- It is difficult to understand how the Jewish people planned on preventing Moshe from dying. One can stop another from entering an ark or leaving a country by use of physical force. Life and death however, is not in man's hand. What was it that they could have done to keep Moshe alive?

- Why does Rashi tell us that "in 3 places the Torah uses the phrase `On that very day'' It would have sufficed by explaining OUR case. Why is there a need to look back at another 2 cases?

- When we look at Rashi's explanation of the first two cases we find that in Noach's case, only the section of the Midrash relating to that particular case is quoted, without mention of the other two. By the second case (Egypt) Rashi doesn't even mention it anymore. He relies on the student to have learned the explanation in Parshat Noach, and therefore he will understand that a similar occurrence took place by the exodus.

If Rashi decided the repetition was unnecessary when discussing the exodus, why then does he mention it by the death of Moshe?

We must therefore conclude that the first two cases differ so much from our case, that we wouldn't consider comparing them to each other. (As we will explain.)

- By Noach there seems to be no need to explain why his contemporaries didn't want him to enter the ark. By Moshe on the other hand we find a long list of good things he did for the Jewish people, giving them plenty of reason for not wanting him to die.

- In the case of Moshe the people only said `We will not let him'. By Noach and Egypt, Rashi adds that in addition to saying this, they also announced how they planned to actually prevent it. (by destroying the ark /attacking the Jews.)

- It is interesting to note that in the additional explanation of the threats, there is mention of TWO objects. By Noach they said they would use 1) axes and 2) hatchets and the Egyptians said they would use 1) swords and 2) other weapons. What is the significance of that?

- By Noach and Egypt Rashi quotes the entire response of Hashem. ("I will... Let them try stop me.."). By Moshe, Rashi only tells us that Hashem would go ahead with his plan but doesn't mention anything about Hashem challenging anyone to stop Him

- Rashi gives us a detailed list of the favors Moshe had done for the Jewish people as their leader. But there were many other good things he had done for them. (Waged wars, he once pleaded with Hashem to make the waters of a bitter well drinkable etc.) Why is it that Rashi chose to list these particular favors?

- Rashi's header on this particular explanation is "And Hashem spoke to Moshe on that very day". When we take a look inside we don't find any explanation on the words "And Hashem spoke to Moshe". All Rashi comes to explain is the mention of `that very day'. Why then did he include the first words in the header, implying that there is an explanation on them as well?

There is one very obvious difference between the first two cases and our case. In the cases of Noach's contemporaries and the Egyptians, we deal with people who were non-believers. It's obvious why they would oppose Noach and the Jewish people. If they did not believe in G-d's existence, then there was no reason to believe a flood would come and destroy the world, or that an entire nation of slaves would be freed from slavery. The people opposing to Moshe's death were the people on which Moshe had said "You who cleave to Hashem your God are alive, all of you, this day". These were holy people. It is therefore hard to believe that they would OPPOSE Hashem's will. That is why Rashi has to tell us that the Torah uses the words `On that very day' in THREE places. If by the first two cases the people were opposing Hashem's will, in the case of Moshe's death we can assume that the Jewish people were ALSO opposing Hashem's will.

When making the comparison of Moshe's case to the first two cases, Rashi uses the words `Likewise here'. In other words, the comparison can be taken all the way. The same way in the first two cases there is the idea of prevention (from going from one place to another), so too this idea must be in the case of Moshe. By Noach they planned to stop him from entering the ark; by the exodus they panned to stop the Jews from leaving Egypt, and by Moshe, the Jews thought they would prevent his death by not physically allowing him to go up to the mountain.

Hashem told Moshe to ascend the mountain where he would die. The Jews figured that if they could only keep Moshe away from the mountain, they could keep him alive forever.

This also explains why there is no need to tell us what physical action they would do to prevent Moshe from dying (as opposed to the other two cases where they were planning on destroying the ark and killing the Jews.)

The people in Noach's days did not really believe in Hashem's words. When Noach relayed the message that they had only one week left to return to Hashem if they wanted to prevent a flood, they were not certain about the exact timing. They thought Hashem to be flexible with his promises and that even if the flood did not start on the promised day, He would possibly send it a day or two later. That is why they wanted to destroy the ark completely, thinking that by doing so Hashem would never bring the flood.

Similarly in the case of Egypt, when Hashem announced that at MIDNIGHT the firstborn would die (after which the Jewish people would become free men), the Egyptians were not sure it would happen exactly at the given time. That is why they prepared themselves for a full- fledged war with many weapons.

The Jewish people however BELIEVED in Hashem's timing. Since they knew that Moshe was meant to pass away on his 120th birthday, they had no need to prepare round the clock guards to prevent Moshe from ascending the mountain. All that was needed was a one-day guard, which did not involved extensive preparations.

To explain the 2 details mentioned by the "preventions" (or preventive acts):

Noach's contemporaries did believe in Hashem to a certain extent. They knew there was to be a flood if they continued in their sinful ways. They also knew that Noach was going to be saved from this flood because he did not deserve do die. Their strategy to prevent the flood therefore consisted of two parts. A) Prevent Noach from entering the ark. B) Just as important- keep Noach alive. If he would die, nothing would keep Hashem back from bringing a flood.

This explains why they wanted to use axes and hatchets (= small hand-ax). The axes were meant to destroy the ark. If Noach didn't have the ark to keep him above the waters, Hashem's flood could kill him, something they knew would never happen.

Hatchets were used by the officers of the Jewish army to break the legs of deserters. The people expected some opposition from Noach when they would attempt to destroy the ark. They therefore intended on using the hatchets to break his legs if necessary without actually killing him.

The Egyptians prepared swords and other weapons. In scripture the term swords always applies to a killing instrument. The Egyptians intended to kill as many Jews as possible and prepared `other weapons' in the case the Jews would retaliate knowing that Hashem was on the Jewish side. (Weapons also refer to other defensive material such as shields etc.)

It is still left to be understood HOW it entered the minds of the Jews to oppose Hashem's decree?

A few weeks ago, in the portion of Ki Tavo, we learned that when a Jew has a field blessed with fruits, he is obligated to express thanks to Hashem by bringing the first fruits to the temple. Otherwise he would be considered ungrateful.

The Jewish people felt the same obligation towards Moshe. That is why Rashi felt it important to list all the good things he did for them. The more favors they could list, the stronger their reason was for preventing Moshe from dying. When we take a close look at what was listed, we notice that they are all things that were affecting their lives on THAT DAY. Although there were other good deeds Moshe had done for the Jews, we can assume that they had expressed their thanks to him at the time of the favor. Their argument on THAT particular day was only valid for those things that had an effect on that day for which they still owed Moshe a thank you.

They make mention of the manna and the quails (NOT the birds that had been used to kill them, but the ones that came with the manna) and the well of Miriam. These three things had been keeping them alive till that very day.

They also make mention of the exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the sea and the giving of the Torah. Concerning the exodus -which concluded with the splitting of the sea- we are told to consider ourselves as if we were there in person. The same applies to the Torah about which it says that we should consider as if it is given anew every day.

We may still wonder how the obligation to be thankful can overturn a Divine commandment?

Rashi answers that by adding the words "And Hashem spoke to Moshe" to his header. This commandment had been directed ONLY to Moshe. The Jewish people felt that their obligation to express thankfulness to Moshe was stronger than Moshe's obligation to ascend the mountain.

This also explains why in the case with Moshe, Rashi did not mention that Hashem said "Let anyone who has power to prevent it, come and prevent it" as he did by the other two cases.

The other two cases talk about people who were trying to OPPOSE Hashem's will while our case discusses people who thought that they had an OBLIGATION (because of the gratitude/thanks they owed Moshe) to `oppose' the divine decree. Even more so, the Jews thought that because Hashem had spoken ONLY to Moshe and had connected his passing with a physical condition (ascending the mountain), He was actually hinting to them that they could (and therefore should) actually prevent it.

May we soon merit the revelations of all the deep secrets of the torah with the coming of Moshiach NOW!


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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