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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

We Can Have What Moshe Most Wanted

Ha’azinu is third in a series of four weekly Torah readings in which Moshe delivers his final “State of the Union” address. The first 43 verses are Shirat Ha’azinu, the song of Ha’azinu. If you looked at these verses in a Torah scroll, you would be able to guess that you were looking at poetry, even without being able to read a word of Hebrew. But it is what we read in the very end of the parsha that always stops my heart.

Hashem spoke to Moshe on that very day, saying, “Ascend to this mount of Abarim, Mount Nevo, which is in the Land of Moav, which is before Jericho, and see the Land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel as an inheritance, and die on the mountain where you will ascend…” (Devarim 32:48-50)

It boggles the mind to consider what Moshe was feeling as he climbed Mount Nevo knowing that, after 120 years, these are among the last steps he will ever take on earth.

But even more than that is what Hashem says a few verses later:

For from a distance shall you see the Land, but you shall not enter there into the Land that I give to the Children of Israel. (Devarim 32:52)

Moshe is told that he will die on a mountaintop in Moav, looking out over, “the Land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel as an inheritance.” He will never be in the Land. Moshe, the man who came closer to Gd than any living person ever did before or since, died without ever stepping foot in the Land of Israel.

I have been to Israel 19 times.

Every time I am privileged to get off a plane at Ben Gurion airport, I wonder, how is it possible that I get to travel to Israel easily, and Moshe, after leading the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, bringing the Torah down from Heaven and leading the Jewish people in the desert for 40 years never got to step foot in the place?

There is a tradition that Moshe offered 514 prayers to try to get Gd to let him enter. The ability to understand why Gd couldn’t allow it is beyond my spiritual level. But, as a believing Jew, I accept as a matter of faith that Gd had a really good reason.

It is much harder for me to understand why so few American Jews find Israel relevant. Two thirds of American Jews have never even been to Israel. Two out of three!

How did I come to understand the importance of Israel to American Jews? On September 11, 2001, my lifelong presumption of safety in America was immediately and irrevocably shattered. I abruptly came to see the United States, a country that received my grandparents, and the three generations that followed them, for what it really is.

A host country.

Don’t believe me? A few historical facts may help you see things more clearly. The first Jews came to America in 1654, but Jewish men couldn’t vote in Maryland until 172 years later. In 1692, the Church of England was the official religion in Maryland. And until less than 150 years ago, public office could only be held by those able to take the oath “upon the true faith of a Christian”.

Make no mistake. America, for all its many positive attributes, is hosting the Jews who live in her borders. This country is not ours.

And it never will be.

Gd has given the Jewish people a few hundred years of safety in America. But the Land of Israel He gave to the Children of Israel as an inheritance.

And that’s forever.

1 comment:

rutimizrachi said...

Beautiful, and spot on. We have been a part of the American fabric for so many generations that we forget that it is not our country. I fear that we will not remember until the country reminds us. I hear that many US rabbis are beginning to tell their congregants to get passports. Is the current financial crisis the beginning of the usual warning for the Jews? We will listen, and see what we will hear. May all of our precious Jewish sisters and brothers hear G-d's message, in whatever form He chooses to send it this time.

(A friendly reminder to correct your "Israel time" clock, my dear. We just left daylight savings time over here.)