Includes four oblique references to the Ninth of Av
Many commentators want us to believe that Moses blames rebellious Jews for his sinful anger. They failed to convince me for several reasons.
1. No one can make you angry. We use excuses of what things remind us of to justify making ourselves angry. Moses could never stoop so low.
2. Several rabbis say that the Primordial Sin was not eating from the Tree of Knowing the Difference Between Good and Bad. As Rabbi Emanuel Quint once told me: We all sometimes eat something that, in hindsight, we’d better have refrained from. No, their fatal mistake was a denial of responsibility. Not me but the woman You gave me, the snake who pushed me. G^d doesn’t even ask the snake for his justification. Moses, the greatest Prophet ever, was repeating this Sin? Unthinkable!
Four References to the Fast Day to the Ninth of Av
‘Because of you,’ Moses says in many translations, ‘I can’t enter the land.’
Our prime Commentator Rashi says that Because of you is the translation of biglalchem here (Deuteronomy 3:26). Normally, and here still, says the Steinsaltz Bible, it means: For your benefit and honor. How so?
Chezkuni reminds us that the men who cried baseless tears on the Ninth of Av on the incitement by the Spies (Numbers 14:1) and the 2.5% who died every Ninth of Av for 40 years (ibid 14:29-35) were not evil. They were, like the whole of the Generation of the Desert that ate Manna, unbelievably holy. They all will merit being resurrected. He explains the only leader great enough to lead them into the Land is Moses. So, he’s buried at their side (of the Jordan) not to delay (those traffic jams!) their entry at last.
Another well-known explanation says everything Moses built was eternal and indestructible. Had he entered the Land, the Temple would’ve been untouchable. Then, it could not have been destroyed twice (twice on the Ninth of Av), and the destruction would have hit the Jews in full force.
Now, why does Rashi say this is not the prime translation here?
Maybe, because Moses says For you, to those listening to him. These were the wives and children of those who died on the desert journeys on the Ninth of Av. And, the Jews witnessing the Ninth of Av destruction of the Temples were their offspring. Those weren’t at Moses’ farewell speech.
But then, what does ‘Because of you’ mean if we are certain that Moses is not blaming others for his failure to enter the Land?
Moses’ Grave Sin’
The Torah is very clear that Moses could not enter the Land because of only one sin he committed. Yet, a dozen of our holy Commentators each give their own explanation of which sin that could have been. One of our Commentators writes he has a different idea still, but because it says so clearly it was one sin, he doesn’t mention it not to add one more idea.
Many argue with Rashi (Numbers 20:13) that G^d judges the Great more strictly than the Simple. So, Moses was found guilty because of something subtle that would not have been held against average people? I thought G^d could not have judged Moses and Aaron unfairly since He also keeps the Torah, and that would’ve been a Desecration of His Name. But Rashi understands it the opposite (see Leviticus 10:3). Still, I disagree. I can even prove that to be untrue in this case. To give the impression of blaming others for one’s own lack of emotional control is the Primordial Sin (Genesis 3:11-13) which would, on his level, be an enormous sin. Still, I think Moses was involved in the greatest sin of Judaism. Hear me out.
I once heard Rabbi Steinsaltz (in a lecture with his friend Rabbi Quint) say that leaving our houses as recognizable Jews is very dangerous. We can do something completely innocent and neutral that is taken the wrong way, and then we’ve participated in the worst sin: Desecration of G^d’s Name.
This was Moses’ and Aaron’s sin. They stood at the flint. The public said: ‘Look at these old men. One is almost 120, the other 123.’ (Many now say and believe the same about US President Biden, just because he’s a bit older. There’s nothing new under the sun—Ecclesiastes 1:9.) ‘They need to be our generals fighting the wicked people of Canaan? In the desert, they sufficed because all good came supernaturally. But leading wars?’
Moses and Aaron were done as leaders. They became unfit, not because they messed up, but because we didn’t deserve them anymore. They were unable to hallow G^d’s Name, as G^d specifies literally (Deuteronomy 32:51). The worst sin! But, not because they did anything wrong!
Someone suggested that, for the same reason, Aaron died. When a court rightly convicts people, their close ones suffer too, but they are not considered. And an army sometimes needs to strike despite the threat of collateral damage. But G^d’s discussions are not like that. Justice for everyone affected is figured in. Aaron’s greatest feat was promoting love and peace between people. When we chose discord (Numbers 20:2-3), we no longer deserved to have the peacemaker around. Just as with Korach who (Numbers 16) attacked his lawyer (Moses) – end of his defense, when quarreling with Aaron, it was the end of our national reconciler.
And that’s why Moses can say: Because of you. It’s purely factual, not defecting blame. And Moses is obligated to say this before his death, as we learn from the saintly Jacob. I once heard Rabbi Steinsaltz tell a story of a holy man who was able to keep his mouth shut all his life to not speak evil ever. But, in the end, on his deathbed, the Evil Inclination got him anyway. His children asked him to reproach them, but he didn’t. You don’t forever chase around your children with all kinds of criticisms. But just before your passing, you clarify their challenges to them. This can be very helpful. Especially as the reproached listen and take it to heart. Regrettably, every day, the news bombards us with words by Jews attacking Jewish leaders, fully convinced that they now are engaged in the greatest saintliness ever.
Moses didn’t blame. He taught them their challenge. And he had done nothing wrong. NB: Don’t blame any of the rabbis for what are my ideas.
G^d is Fair
Even Atheist Albert Einstein held that G^d might be tricky to understand, but He’s not a trickster. We know that G^d loves us. Then there is no way He tries to trip us up. The Sages teach us that we can succeed in every test G^d gives us. Only, there is no such guarantee for tests we seek ourselves.
This is my first answer to the one who told me that G^d tricked Moses by telling him to talk to the rock and take his staff (Numbers 20:8). Besides, this happened before when G^d told Moses to take his staff and hit the Nile (Exodus 7:17, 19), but he didn’t. He gave the job to his brother (7:20). Moses was not misled (Heaven forbid). The staff is a symbol of leadership.
Which made me think of the First Sin. How could Adam and Eve fail that test? They hadn’t chosen it. Something before that must have gone wrong. G^d noticed humans didn’t like being single-bodied. So, He decides to split them into men and women opposite of each other, not as Siamese twins.
But this is something most dramatic. This is the first time in G^d’s perfect Creation that something is ‘not good.’ G^d decided to help humans realize what is Good. He showed us we couldn’t even keep One Commandment for one hour. They had to eat from the Tree of Knowing Good from Bad, no less! (No, Jewish Free Will is not between Good and Bad but choose Good over Bad: Choose life! – Deuteronomy 30:19) Employing this talent became humanity’s overriding assignment, to use Volition to perfect us.