July 10, 2020
Well, the Korach uprising is behind us, the Midianites have been defeated, the Moabite/Edomite onslaught has been neutralized, and it’s back to business. First a census, then the first recorded victory for women’s rights. Then, as Moses turns to detail the sacrifices to be brought for holy days and festivals, business-as-usual suddenly comes to a halt for Moses. It would seem that this particular story in the middle of Parshat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1) seems out-of-place – just stuck in. Or is it?
As we know, and as we are reminded in our portion, Moses has been forbidden to enter the “Promised Land” because of his actions at the waters of Meribah in the Wilderness of Zin. A quick review is provided by the Torah, reminding us that he struck the rock instead of speaking to it, failing to glorify God before the People. Moses wants to make a plea, that he might enter the Land before he dies. This will happen again in later portions, but God will not be swayed. He grants Moses the privilege to go up on Mount of Abarim so that he can see the Land, but after that, he will give up his life. (27:12 – 13)
It’s a sad scene. We are only a double portion (next week’s) from the end of the Book of Numbers and with it, the end of Moses’ life. He has lived 120 years! He has two things working against him. First and foremost, the events at Meribah. And then, there is age! Let’s face it. He has done some amazing things, considering he started this venture when he was 81 years old! In a day when the average life span was 45 years, this is truly amazing – a miracle, one might say. But he still has God’s attention. It would not be outrageous to ask to set foot on the Land that he has been promoting for the last 39 years. After all the trials and the tribulations, after all the arguments, the internal and external fights, the wars, and his relationship with God, would it be so terrible for Moses to die in the Promised Land, or at least set foot in it before he dies? Actually, yes. And here’s why.
Everything has changed. The people standing before Moses now are not the people who left Egypt – it’s a whole new generation. Only he, Joshua, and Caleb are left of that “original” generation and they are the only ones with the experiences of Egypt and Mount Sinai behind them. There are guidelines (mitzvot) before the People now, and they have witnessed God’s power. But they have been living with miracles – so many and so often that “miracles” have become commonplace. They happen all of the time. The People are, perhaps, too used to them. Now, they approach their “NEW” land, for which they will have to fight and subdue. But now, they know how to fight. They know how to govern. They know what community means and what nationhood means. And they know and understand God. The mess Moses was left with has become cohesive and familiar – they have no need of “fire and brimstone” anymore.
Now, as the portable spring and the manna go away, and the Clouds of Glory retreat to the Tabernacle, the Nation will have to fend for themselves, which is something they didn’t need to do under Moses. And symbolically, the world is about the change, and at 120 years of age, Moses can rest now. Joshua is half Moses’ age, though 60 isn’t shabby for those days. He and Caleb will run things, and they will do an exemplary job – something God will show to Moses prophetically. They will also be the “institutional memory” for what happened in Egypt and, perhaps more importantly, what happened at Sinai. Moses represents the old. Joshua and Caleb represent the new. The last 40 years have been the era of Moses. But this new era about to begin, will be the era of the People. The symbolism will lost if Moses has anything to do with the Promised Land. Time to move on.