The Parsha, the Process and the Promised Land
Thoughts on the Weekly Torah Reading Relating to Current Events

by Michael Freund
(first posted on Arutz 7)



The Day the World Changed

The Question:
The Parsha begins with Moshe bidding farewell to the Jewish people and trying to reassure them that, even after his departure, they will continue to be guided by G-d. The Torah states: "And Moshe went ["VaYelech" in Heb.] and spoke these words to all of Israel. He said to them, 'I am 120 years old today, I can no longer go out and come in, for G-d has said to me, "You shall not cross this Jordan." The L-rd your G-d, He will cross before you… be strong and courageous, do not be afraid and do not be broken before them, for the L-rd your G-d, it is He Who goes before you…. (Chap. 31, verses 1-3, 6).'"

The Answer:
Rabbi Yissocher Frand of Yeshivat Ner Israel in Baltimore cites the Mikdash Mordechai, who explains that when the Jewish people heard Moshe say that he was 120 years old and would no longer be able to lead them, they were stunned. They could not understand how it was possible that a man of Moshe's stature, who was able to ascend to the Heavens, could now find himself unable even to cross a river. Moshe then told them the reason that he was unable to cross the Jordan river - "for G-d has said to me, 'You shall not cross this Jordan.'" Therein lies the rebuke, says the Mikdash Mordechai, for Moshe was reminding the Jewish people that while human beings may think that they are the ones who call the shots in this world, the fact is that it is G-d who is in control. A person such as Moshe may be able to reach the most awesome of celestial heights one day, only to find that the following day he can not even cross a river, for the simple reason that G-d has thus decided. As strong or as powerful as a person might be, he must never forget that, in the blink of an eye, everything can change and that whatever he does succeed in accomplishing, it is G-d's kindness and benevolence that allows him to do so.

The Lesson:
Nearly a full year has passed since the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but even with the passage of time, one can not avoid the feeling that somehow, the world will never be the same again. Perhaps it was the dramatic footage broadcast around the world, or the astonishing number of victims, or maybe it was the audacity of the assaults and the symbolism of the targets. Nevertheless, there is something deeper about this incident, something that has rattled people across the globe and shaken their confidence unlike any event in recent memory. The explanation for this may very well lie in what we saw above regarding Moshe, because the attacks in New York and Washington were a clear and very painful reminder for all of us that the world as we know it can suddenly change, forever altered within a matter of minutes.

When the Jewish people heard that Moshe, the man who had led them out of slavery, guided them through the desert and helped to forge them into a nation, was suddenly retiring, it was no doubt a dramatic shock to them all. The world as they knew it was no more and their confidence must have taken a heavy blow, just as ours has in the past week and a half. But that is where Moshe's words of comfort come into play - "be strong and courageous, do not be afraid and do not be broken before them, for the L-rd your G-d, it is He Who goes before you." The world, indeed, is no longer the same. Rather than allowing ourselves to be overcome with fear and trepidation, we must instead reaffirm our strength and our conviction that it is G-d who controls events. And come what may, He will be there to guide us through.

Where is Man?
After Moshe has reassured the Jewish people regarding the future and formally appointed Joshua as his successor, G-d tells Moshe to summon Joshua and appear together with him in the Tent of Meeting. G-d addresses Moshe in the Tent, telling him that after his death the Jewish people will sin and stray after false gods. The Torah says, "My anger will flare against it [the nation] on that day and I will forsake them, and I will conceal my face from them… and it [the nation] will say on that day, 'Is it not because my G-d is not in my midst that these evils have come upon me?' But I will surely conceal my face on that day because of all the evil that it [the nation] did… (Chap. 31, verses 17-18)."

The Question:
If the nation recognizes that they had become distanced from G-d - by acknowledging that "my G-d is not in my midst," then why should G-d punish them in the following verse by declaring that "I will surely conceal my face on that day"?

The Answer:
Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa (1767-1827, a disciple of the Chozeh of Lublin), says that the nation's declaration that "my G-d is not in my midst" is, in fact, a sin and not an act of penitence. The Jewish people, says Rabbi Simcha Bunim, are obligated to believe that G-d is with them even at the most difficult of times. By declaring that "my G-d is not in my midst," they are saying exactly the opposite. Hence, says Rabbi Simcha Bunim, because the nation sins in such a manner, it is appropriate that they be punished accordingly. They say that G-d is not among them, so He decides to conceal His face, as if He were not among them.

The Lesson:
In these difficult year, when Israel faced a wave of unprecedented Palestinian terror and the world is still reeling from the shock of the World Trade Center collapse, many people are grappling to try and understand why the world seems filled with so much evil and destruction. Major media outlets, such as the Washington Post, reported a noticeable increase in the number of Americans seeking spiritual comfort at their local houses of worship after Sept. 11, and President George W. Bush even declared a national day of prayer and remembrance. It is tempting during such calamitous periods in history to throw up our hands and question whether G-d is really concerned with what occurs here on earth. However, as we saw above, such a question is inherently unacceptable, for G-d never abandons us, even if we might feel that He has. Indeed, the question we should be asking in light of all that has occurred of late is not "Where is G-d?" but "Where is Man?"

Human beings are granted free choice, and those who crashed the airplanes into the World Trade Center or bombed innocent students to death at Hebrew University were evil men perpetrating evil deeds. Though the world has finally seemed to awaken to the dangers of terror, we must ask ourselves: why did it take the presumed deaths of some 2,000 innocent Americans to rouse the world from its slumber? For years, Israel has been the target of terrorists, men who have ruthlessly murdered for the sake of advancing their twisted agenda.
Rather than condemning such terror, much of the world coddled it. Rather than declaring Yasser Arafat and his tactics to be unacceptable and out of bounds, the nations of the world granted him legitimacy. It was Arafat who introduced airplane hijackings to the world in the 1970s, and it was Arafat's allies in Hamas and Islamic Jihad who popularized suicide attacks in the 1990s - the lethal combination of which were used in the fateful attacks in New York and Washington last week. Had the world heeded the warning signs earlier, had it taken forceful measures to stamp out Palestinian terrorism decades ago, who knows how many innocent lives might have been saved and how many needless deaths might have been avoided.
Pinning the blame on G-d is easy, but it is also a cop-out. G-d is here, He is with us and He is watching over us at all times, as Rabbi Simcha Bunim said above. The true blame for recent events lies with those people who commit such heinous acts and those who assist them, but also with those who have the power to stop them and fail to do so.

May we all merit to be written and sealed in the Book of Life for a year of health, peace, and prosperity, and may the new year herald the end of the exile and the return of the entire Jewish people to the entire Land of Israel.


Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications and Policy Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office from 1996 to 1999. He is currently an editorial writer and syndicated columnist for the Jerusalem Post. Comments/Feedback/Subscribe:

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