Midrash Tanchuma relates a cryptic reference to an event that would seem to be filled with extraordinary emotion. Shortly before his death, God showed Moshe all of Jewish history. In fact, everything that was and will be. The Sifrei (357) is more specific – Moshe saw the world from creation until the resurrection of the dead מיום שנברא עד יום שיחיו המתים
No matter how disheartening it was, at least Moshe saw it to its glorious end.
What was it like to witness the triumphs and tragedies of Jewish history? Midrash Tanchuma does not share any of Moshe’s emotions, it simply states:
. הֶרְאָה לוֹ שִׁמְשׁוֹן עוֹמֵד מִדָּן, וּבָרָק בֶּן אֲבִינֹעַם מִן נַפְתָּלִי, וּמִן כָּל דּוֹר וָדוֹר, דּוֹר וָדוֹר וְשׁוֹפְטָיו, דּוֹר וָדוֹר וּמַנְהִיגָיו, דּוֹר וָדוֹר וּרְשָׁעָיו, דּוֹר וָדוֹר וְצַדִּיקָיו,
“He showed him Shimshon arising from Dan, and Barak, from Naphtali. So it was for every generation with its judges, every generation with its leaders, every generation with its sages, every generation with its wicked, every generation with its righteous.” (Midrash Tanchuma Zot Habracha, 4 & Midrash Tanchuma Masei, 4:1).
Who deserved this more than Moshe? After all, Moshe was God’s faithful messenger in redeeming the Jewish People and transmitting the written and oral Torah. Having been deprived from entering the land of Israel it seemed so fitting that Moshe be the only person to see the dramatic unfolding of Jewish history.
Shimshon and Barak. Degrees of disappointment.
Why did the Midrash single out these two leaders by name? Perhaps it was particularly perplexing for Moshe to watch Shimshon squander a divine gift of superhuman strength to defend the Jewish People.The gift was, of course, his downfall.
General Barak had a clear prophecy of victory over Sisra and the Canaanite army. Yet Barak refused to go to war unless the Prophetess Devora accompanied him.
Both Shimshon and Barak stood in stark contrast to Moshe who had no divine gift of superhuman strength nor God’s assurance of victory. Yet he gave up a life of luxury and safety in Pharaoh’s palace to heroically save a Jewish slave from the brutality of his Egyptian taskmaster. He could not stand by and witness the suffering of his people and that was surely one of the reasons why God chose him to take the Jews out of Egypt. Perhaps Moshe was partially consoled by the final act of defiance that Shimshon displayed before his death and the bravery of Yael who killed Sisra in her tent at a great personal sacrifice.
Moshe testified that God kept his promise
For what purpose did Moshe have to witness all of Jewish history? The Midrash does seem to tell us that much. Midrash Tanchuma mentions that Moshe could now testify to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov that God kept his promise to bring the Jewish People into the land of Israel. And despite the fact that we broke our promise to keep the Torah – countless times, God never revoked His relationship with us until the end of time:
אִם־יִהְיֶ֥ה נִֽדַּחֲךָ֖ בִּקְצֵ֣ה הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם מִשָּׁ֗ם יְקַבֶּצְךָ֙ ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ וּמִשָּׁ֖ם יִקָּחֶֽךָ׃
וֶהֱבִֽיאֲךָ֞ ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ אֶל־הָאָ֛רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יָרְשׁ֥וּ אֲבֹתֶ֖יךָ וִֽירִשְׁתָּ֑הּ וְהֵיטִֽבְךָ֥ וְהִרְבְּךָ֖ מֵאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ
“Even if you are exiled to the ends of the Earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, from there He will fetch you. And the Lord your God will bring you to the land that your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your fathers.” (Devarim, 30: 4-5)
The ultimate consolation for Moshe – a generation is only as good as its leader
Midrash Tanchuma says that Moshe was shown “every generation with its leaders.” Perhaps the Midrash is implying that Moshe saw the profound impact a leader has on its generation – for better or for worse. It was Moshe’s strength and integrity that enabled him to be the faithful messenger that brought the Jews from slavery to receiving the Torah.
Perhaps witnessing all of Jewish History was the ultimate consolation for Moshe. Besides being the leader who implored, scolded and blessed his beloved people until his dying breath, he remains Moshe Rabeinu – the teacher of the Jewish People. Although he did not fulfill his mission to bring the Jews into the land of Israel, the moral values he transmitted through the Torah enabled the Jewish People and all nations to fulfill the ultimate mission of creation.