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Steve Rodan

Last Man Standing

I entreated the Lord at that time, saying, “O Lord God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand, for who is [like] God in heaven or on earth who can do as Your deeds and Your might? Pray let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.” [Deuteronomy. 3:23-25]
Most famous people end their lives with a whimper. Their glorious careers are torpedoed by sickness or feebleness. They might still be in positions of power, but they can’t remember their own names or addresses. By the time, they’re gone, those around them breathe a sigh of relief.
Moses was blessed in that he did not share that fate. His mental and physical strength persisted until his last breath. He led the wars against great nations until the end. He had just conquered Sihon and Og and technically had entered the Land of Canaan. Yes, he had been told a year earlier that he would not enter the land of the patriarchs. But with such a winning streak, maybe G-d was willing to negotiate. Perhaps, if he remained persistent his prayers would be answered.
Rabbi Shmuel Ben Meir, known as the Rashbam, was a member of one of the greatest Torah families in history. He was the grandson of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, or Rashi, and studied with him. His profession as a French farmer did not stop him from writing one of the most cogent commentaries on the Scriptures, most of which was lost. He taught his brother, who became known as Rabbenu Tam, the most prominent of the Tosafists. Despite the ravages of disease and war, particularly the Crusades, the Rashbam lived a long life.
The Rashbam recorded the dialogue between Moses and G-d. The exchange can be read two ways. In one version, G-d praises Moses’ tact in waiting a year until he requested to cross the Jordan River.
“Because of your waiting,” G-d is quoted as saying, “the rest of the dead have descended to their graves and you will go up, as it is written, ‘Go up to the top of the peak and see [Canaan] from there.”
But there is another way of reading this. G-d is not making a declarative sentence. He is asking a question.
“Because you’ve waited, the rest of the dead went to their graves — and [now] you will go up?”
Other commentators noticed the trace of a question as well. Did Moses, the last man standing, wait until the entire generation of Israel — including his sister and brother — die in the desert before he requested to be the exception? Did Moses forget about everybody else?
In September 1970, a group of leading American rabbis were on a TWA Flight 741 from Tel Aviv to New York. The jet was hijacked over Belgium by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and directed to Jordan. On board were several leading American rabbis, including Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner, the dean of the Rabbi Chaim Berlin Yeshiva and survivor of the 1929 massacre in Hebron. After the Boeing aircraft landed, the Arab hijackers sent 125 hostages to Amman but kept the Jews on the plane.
The State of Israel, despite the hijacking of an El Al plane, did not send forces to save the hostages. Britain agreed to PFLP demands to free Palestinian prisoners. Rabbi Hutner and his colleagues were alone. His captors even tried to cut off his beard.
In desperation, a rabbinical delegation visiting Israel drove to Netivot to meet Rabbi Yisrael Abu Hatzeira, known as the Baba Sali, born in Morocco in 1890 and one of the greatest Jewish figures of the 20th Century. The rabbis urged the elderly sage to pray for Rabbi Hutner and his colleagues. The Baba Sali walked out of the room.
The visitors were stunned. The miracle worker would not pray for the American rabbis. They went to see an aide of the Baba Sali and urged him to intervene. The aide asked, “How did you ask the Baba Sali? Did you ask him to pray only for the rabbis? What about the others on board?”
At that point, the aide took the rabbis back to the Baba Sali to renew their request but include the rescue of everybody. The 80-year-old hooded ascetic simply said, “They will be freed before Shabbat.” And that’s what happened.
Moses did not abandon the generation of the desert. Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar, known as the Or Hachayim, says Moses never stopped praying for his flock. His desire to enter the Land of Canaan was meant to protect the current Israelite generation that would cross the Jordan. They would face trials and tribulations and, like the generation of the desert, would fall again and again. He believed that if he went into Land of Canaan, the Jews would build the Temple and never be defeated.
But the Lord was angry with me because of you, and He did not listen to me, and the Lord said to me, “It is enough for you; speak to Me no more regarding this matter. [Deuteronomy. 3:26]
G-d’s reply ended the exchange. Moses would remain with the generation of the desert. He would stay with them until the Final Redemption and then all of them would be gathered for the trek to the Promised Land. Yes, Moses supplied many good reasons to enter the Land of Canaan. But the most important factor was that Moses was and would always be the captain of his ship. And that would never change.
About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
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