Moshe – The Quintessential Leader
“Moshe went and spoke these words to all of Israel. He said to them: I am one hundred and twenty years old today; I can no longer go out and come in, for Hashem has said to me: You shall not cross this Jordan” (Devarim 31:1-2)
The sefer Ateret Tzvi asks why Moshe “went out” instead of gathering the nation together by means of the trumpets, which was the usual method of assembling the people. The author replies according to the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 96:3), which quotes the words of Kohelet (8:8), that there is no authority on the day of death. Moshe’s time was now up. Hashem hid the trumpets so that they should not be used. Moshe was born and passed away on a Shabbat (Zohar II, 88b), for Hashem fills the years of tzaddikim to their maximum (Kiddushin 38a). The trumpets were forbidden to be blown on Shabbat. Thus, Moshe had to go to the people on his own and gather them together.
Further in the parashah, we read (ibid., 31:14), “Behold, your days are drawing near to die.” The Midrash relates (Devarim Rabbah 9:9) that the day Moshe passed away, he wrote thirteen Sifrei Torah. Twelve were distributed among the shevatim, and one was placed in the Aron. The Ateret Tzvi finds this baffling. Moshe died on a Shabbat; how could he write Sifrei Torah on that day? The Ateret Tzvi quotes the Tur (Orach Chaim 292) and the Bach (ibid., 2), who prove that Moshe did not die on Shabbat, but on Erev Shabbat. He was buried on Shabbat, at Minchah time. We are still left wondering how he could possibly write thirteen Sifrei Torah in one day.
The Ateret Tzvi has another question: How could the nation leave Moshe’s body until after Shabbat? As it is known, it is forbidden to bury the dead on Shabbat (Rambam, Sanhedrin 15:7). I would like to suggest that when Moshe realized that he would die, and that his prayers had not been accepted, he ceased praying. At that moment, he made peace with his fate and was already considered dead. But his actual death was on Shabbat. Chazal inform us (Devarim Rabbah
11:4) that Moshe was half-human and half-divine. His divine self never died. Therefore, Hashem Himself buried Moshe (Sotah 9b). Moshe Rabbeinu ascended alive to Heaven. He remained living, inside fire. This is alluded to in Tehillim (8:6), “You have made him but slightly less than the angels.”
What was uppermost in Moshe’s mind as he was preparing for his death? Transmitting to Bnei Yisrael Hashem’s message. He did not call them with the trumpets (even according to the opinion that he did not die on Shabbat), for his way was always to come toward the people. In Egypt, Moshe was instructed to (Shemot 10:1), “Come to Pharaoh.” We also find (ibid., 4:18), “Moshe went and returned to Yitro, his father-in-law,” (ibid., 4:29), “Moshe and Aharon went and gathered all the elders…,” (Bamidbar 16:25), “Moshe stood up and went to Datan and Aviram.” Regarding Moshe’s going to Pharaoh, the Zohar states (II, 34a) that Hashem told Moshe, “I will go together with you.” Each Jew has a nitzotz of Moshe within him. Whenever a person chooses to do a good deed, the Yetzer Hara wages war against him. Hashem stands at his side, protecting him from all evil, just as He protected Moshe in the palace of Pharaoh.
Moshe invested great effort into going to the nation. For this reason, Hashem granted him Heavenly assistance, as He had when Moshe went to Pharaoh. How could Moshe manage to transmit Hashem’s message to the entire nation without the aid of loudspeakers? In this, too, Moshe was teaching them a lesson. When a person is involved in a mitzvah, he has nothing less than the Presence of Hashem at his side. He is infused with supernatural powers and can accomplish tremendous things. Moshe succeeded in speaking to the entire nation and writing thirteen Sifrei Torah in one day (Devarim Rabbah 9:9). An angel taught Yosef Hatzaddik seventy languages in one night (Sotah 36b). His adherence to the Torah granted him supernal powers. Yaakov Avinu taught Yosef all of the Torah teachings he had amassed in the Beit Hamidrash of Shem and Ever by the time Yosef was a mere lad of seventeen years. This, too, was above the laws of nature.
Moshe, our quintessential leader, wished to meet with each and every member of his flock, offering him inspiration and encouragement. Words of Torah need strengthening. This is why he made the effort to go out to the people (Berachot 32b).
Chazal inform us (see Parashat Derachim 8 on the Midrash) that had Moshe Rabbeinu entered the Land, he would have built the Beit Hamikdash, which would subsequently never have been destroyed. He would also have sealed the entrance to Gehinnom. Moshe was devastated upon hearing that he was denied entry into Eretz Yisrael. But he did not languish in gloom. He spent his last days transmitting Hashem’s word to Am Yisrael. He spoke to them individually and left them a most precious legacy – a Torah Scroll for each tribe.
The day of David Hamelech’s death was a Shabbat (Shabbat 30b). On that day, he learned Torah without pause. The Angel of Death was thus prevented from taking his neshamah. What did he do? He caused a rustle in the trees, interrupting David’s learning for a moment. In that instant, he swooped down and claimed David’s neshamah. This incident clearly indicates that one who is connected to the Torah is protected from the Angel of Death.
Not only was Moshe Rabbeinu a singular talmid chacham who was bound with Torah, he was the very ambassador of Torah, the one who brought it to us. The Netziv relates (Ha’amek Davar, Shemot 4:27) that Aharon HaKohen would kiss his brother, Moshe, the way one kisses a Sefer Torah. We have no concept of who Moshe was. Even the Angel of Death held no sway over him. Moshe never gave thought to the day of death, for he was one with Torah, the elixir of life (see Shabbat 88b). Torah is eternal, and Moshe’s sefirah is netzach, meaning eternity (see Zohar III, 243a). Only after Hashem asked him to refrain from further prayer, did Moshe realize that his time had come.
Moshe wrote the Sifrei Torah on his day of death. Until then, he did not believe that he would succumb to death. In truth, Moshe did not die but was taken by Hashem. Only on his last day here, did he understand that his purpose in this world had been accomplished. Moshe was partially divine and therefore had the ability to write thirteen Sifrei Torah in one day. Moshe’s powers are above our level of comprehension.
Every Erev Shabbat, the tzaddik, Rabbi Chaim Pinto, zy”a, used to go from Mogador to Meknes, a long distance. He would visit Rabbi David Chassin, zt”l, a great liturgist, who wrote beautiful songs to Hashem. They would sing together through the night. Then Rabbi David would escort Rabbi Chaim home. Many unnatural points are demonstrated in this story.
One must always bear in mind that he is capable of action only bisiyata di’Shemaya. Although Moshe told the nation, “I am one hundred and twenty years old today; I can no longer go out and come in,” he still went out toward the people and wrote thirteen Sifrei Torah on that day. Hashem was with him, as He is with all who do His will.
Observing the actions of our great men instills us with emunah. In Morocco, the children were educated in faith from a young age, not waiting until they reached yeshiva days. The Chafetz Chaim quotes the words “I am Hashem” to mean the following: If a person thinks he is “I,” he will never believe in Hashem. But if he acknowledges that “I” refers to Hashem, then he will come to belief. One must realize that Hashem resides inside him. One who lives with this awareness will be able to do transcend the boundaries of nature, as we find regarding Moshe Rabbeinu.