This week’s Torah portion begins with Moses entreating God to be allowed to enter the Land of Israel. The verse states, “I entreated God at that time, saying: O Lord God, you have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand… Please let me cross over and see the good Land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.” (Devarim 3:23-25) The question that arises here is as follows: we know that in Parshat Chukat after the incident of Mei Merivah, Moses was told that he was not going to be able to enter the Land. Why then did Moses wait until this week’s portion to entreat God to be allowed to enter the Land? I believe that a story told by the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yona Metzger, shared on the occasion of the 63rd anniversary of the State of Israel will help shed some light on this question.
There were once two Chasidim who would leave their families and travel to visit their Rebbe every year from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. One year while on their way they became delayed, and the inn where they normally lodged was full by the time they got there. The innkeeper advised them to continue down the road to another inn, where a woman and her husband rented rooms for travelers. The gracious hostess invited them in, prepared a meal and got to talking. She inquired as to the nature of their trip, and the Chassidim responded that they were traveling to spend the High Holy Days with their Rebbe. Being unfamiliar with the term, she asked “What is a Rebbe?” They replied simply – a Rebbe is a Tzaddik, a righteous individual, and whatever a Tzaddik decrees God fulfills.
The next morning before sending them on their way, the innkeeper asked the travelers to request a blessing from the Rebbe for her and her husband to merit children after years of a childless marriage. Of course, they answered in the affirmative and continued on their journey. A few days later, the innkeeper bought a baby carriage. A curious neighbor asked her if congratulations were in order? She replied, “Not yet, but I got a blessing from a Rebbe and whatever a Tzaddik decrees God fulfills.”
One year later the same two Chassidim traveled to meet their Rebbe for the High Holy Days and they decided to once again frequent the inn of the childless couple. When they arrived and the innkeeper opened the door, they saw that she was holding a baby. They asked if this was her child, and she replied that it was, saying, “Of course what the tzaddik decrees God fulfills.” One of the Chassidim was overjoyed, but the other was quite forlorn. For ten years he too had been traveling to the Rebbe for a blessing for a child and still he was childless. Yet this woman, who has never even heard of a Rebbe, asks one time and receives the greatest gift! They decide to continue on their way and to ask the Rebbe after Yom Kippur how this can be.
The conversation went something like this: “Rebbe, how is it that your blessing for a child came to fruition for the simple innkeeper, and did not work for me, a Chassid who every year comes and asks you for a blessing?” The Rebbe replied, “Tell me honestly, did you ever go out and buy a carriage?”
A blessing is not a magic wand that you wave and gifts appear, a blessing needs a space in this world to land. This woman of simple faith believed with all her heart that what a Tzaddik decrees God fulfills, and so she did her part by going out to buy a baby carriage. This action was the effort necessary for the blessing to take effect. The same thing is true regarding our question about the timing of Moses’ request to God. Between the episode of Mei Merivah and our Torah portion, Moses appoints a worthy successor, Joshua (Numbers 27:18). Moses was commanded to wage war against the people of Midyan, which he successfully accomplished; so began the process of distributing the Land of Israel among the tribes by delineating its borders (Numbers 31:1-2, 34:1-2). With all of these actions now completed, Moses felt that the time was appropriate to entreat God to be allowed to enter the Land. Only after he showed with concrete action his full desire to enter the Land, then did he feel it was fitting to ask God for that privilege.
Similarly, in our days it is incumbent upon the Jewish people to yearn and strive for the rebuilding of the Land in order to truly merit the complete Redemption. In his work Eim Habanim Semeichah, Rav Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal expounds on the nature of the future redemption and quotes Rabbi Yehuda Halevi’s Kuzari as follows: “Man is guilty if he does not bring his yearnings for the Holy Land to fruition. Mere intentions are insufficient…When people awaken and arise within themselves a love for the Holy Place, the long awaited time will draw near with great reward and recompense. As it says, ‘You will arise and have mercy upon Zion, for it is time to favor her, for the appointed time has come. For Your servants cherished her stones and favored her dust.’ (Tehillim 102: 14-15). That is to say, Jerusalem will only be rebuilt when the people of Israel long for it with a complete longing, until they favor her stones and dust.” (Eim Habanim Semeichah, pg.148-149)
For the last 2,000 years, we the Jewish people have been yearning for the day when we would have the ability to return home. At the turn of the 20th Century, we began to come back home– we bought the baby carriage. We built towns and cities, we created the infrastructure, we began the process of bringing home our brothers and sisters from the far flung corners of the globe. Because of this undying yearning — this desire and enormous human effort — there was a place for the blessing to land in our world. Through this continued desire and yearning for the Land, may we merit to bring the full Redemption speedily in our days and fulfill the words, “May it be your will… that You bring us up in gladness to our Land, and plant us within our boundaries.”(Mussaf Shemona Esre of Shabbat)