When we first made Aliya in the early 80’s, I had trouble with modern Hebrew. So, it should come as no surprise that I was confused by Israeli TV. My kids continued their viewing habits by substituting Rechov Sumsum for Sesame Street. While watching one time, I asked my oldest daughter, then about 6 and already wise in the ways of the world, why the Oscar the Grouch character is called Moshe Oofnick? My daughter couldn’t answer. A few minutes later my middle daughter entered the house and dropped the things she had been carrying and exclaimed, ‘Oof!’ My oldest daughter and I traded knowing looks. That frustrated exclamation of disappointment has a place in this week’s Torah reading.
Our parsha begins with a review of many events of the 40 years in the Wilderness. This chronicle couldn’t exclude the shameful account of the sin of the scouts whose evil counsel caused that generation to spend the remainder of their lives in their desert encampment. After a description of this disappointing episode in which basically the entire nation despairs of conquering Eretz Yisrael, we’re told that God’s wrath was kindled against the Jews’. The surprising aftermath is that God is also angry at Moshe, who seems to be an innocent bystander.
Here’s the pertinent verse, ‘Because of you the Lord was incensed with me too, and He said: You shall not enter it either’ (Devarim 1:37). There are two problems. Why was God angry at Moshe? And, according to Sefer Bamidbar, this wasn’t the reason that Moshe couldn’t go into Eretz Yisrael. As you will recall, Moshe and Aharon were punished for hitting the rock.
The word which begins the verse in the Aramaic translation called Targum Yonatan is ‘Oof!’ So, according to Yonatan ben Uziel, Moshe Rabbeinu was the first ‘Oofnick’. This OOF is the translation of the Hebrew word GAM, which usually means ‘also’ but here is variously translated ‘because’, ‘as well’, or ‘too’. I love the use of OOF, because it lends a sense of disappointment to Moshe’s remarks, but it doesn’t help us understand the central issue: Why is Moshe claiming that God’s refusal to allow him to enter Eretz Yisrael is connected to the sin of the scouts in year 1, rather than the incident with the rock in year 40?
As we prepare for Tisha B’Av, the answer of the Ohr HaChayim is especially pertinent. He claims that the entire situation is based on the Talmudic comment that because the Jews cried that night after hearing the terrible report (Bamidbar 14:1), God decreed BECHIYA L’DOROT, eternal tears (Ta’anit 29a). Those ‘eternal tears’ took place on Tish B’Av and destined that date for national tragedy. However, none of that could have happened if Moshe had entered the Land at the head of the nation. In that scenario, Moshe would have built the Beit HaMikdash, which would never have been destroyed (according to Sotah 9a).
According to the Ohr HaChayim, it became inevitable that Moshe couldn’t enter the Land on that Tisha B’av. It was not yet determined what incident would be the proximate cause for God’s denial of Moshe’s entry, but happen it would. This is a fascinating answer, and does explain that Moshe wouldn’t enter the Land. But it doesn’t explain why God was angry at Moshe then. It really seems that at this point God wasn’t angry at Moshe, only later would there be Divine anger at Moshe.
There is another popular approach (Ramban, Netziv, Malbim) that the ‘anger’ mentioned here doesn’t refer to that Tisha B’Av from year one. The verse is jumping ahead, and refers to that rocky incident in year 40. Possible, but the narrative doesn’t flow so well that way.
So, I’m going to vote for a variation on the interpretation of the Kli Yakar. He suggests that Moshe is informing us that his fatal faux pas which precipitated God’s wrath, was a result of remaining 40 years in the desert. This caused many negatives, including the death of Miriam and the disappearance of the miraculous well. These events caused the incident by the rock.
I want to add that after 40 years of the desert and the arising of a different generation, Moshe was no longer the appropriate leader to conquer the Land. Besides being 40 years older, I believe that Moshe wearied of the task. I think that’s why Moshe couldn’t control his anger. Remember the sin at the rock was described by God as not being an appropriate KIDDUSH HaSHEM, sanctification of the Divine Name. This included calling the Jews ‘rebels’ as well as rock abuse. After all those years of wear and tear, Moshe was no longer the best choice for Conqueror of Eretz Yisrael.
So, as we prepare for Tisha B’Av it’s appropriate to recall all of the terrible ramifications of that sin on the first Tisha B’av in the MIDBAR. We lost so much that day. All I can say is ‘OOF’!!