Mount Nebo

God’s commandment to live in the Land of Israel was not meant exclusively for Abraham. Rather, it was given to Jews to observe throughout the generations.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

Moses, the great leader of Israel who is described in the Torah as the “humblest of all men,” had one request of God – to lead the Jewish people into the Land of Israel.

But as we know (or as we think…stay tuned!), God said “no” because Moses had hit the rock instead of speaking to the rock that was supposed to provide water for the Jews in the desert. This desecration of God was considered unforgivable and the original punishment of not being allowed to enter the Land of Israel remained.

There is another, lesser-known reason why Moses was denied entry to the Land of Israel. The Midrash (rabbinc literature) says:

“Rabbi Levi said, Moses said before God, ‘Master of the World, the bones of Joseph will enter the Land of Israel, and I will not be allowed to enter the land?’ God then responded, ‘The one who admitted to his homeland will be buried in his homeland, but the one who denied his homeland will not be buried in his homeland.’”

To what is the Midrash referring? Who admitted what? Who denied what?

Back in the story of Joseph, when Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of inappropriate actions, she said, “See, you have brought us a Hebrew (Ivri).”

Joseph did not deny that description and even added, “I was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews.” Therefore, he merited to be buried in the Land of Israel.

Regarding Moses, however, when Jethro’s daughters said to their father, “An Egyptian man saved us from the hands of the shepherds,” Moses remained silent and did not mention anything about being a Hebrew or about his true homeland. As such, he was denied entry and even burial in the Land of Israel.

The question is asked: Why are Moses and Joseph being compared to each other? They were two very different people living in two very different times. Joseph was born in the Land of Israel and from there was brought down to Egypt against his will. Hence, his statement “I was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews” was a description of who he was.

Moses, on the other hand, was born in Egypt. He fled the land of Egypt and ran to Midian. Therefore, when Jethro’s daughters described Moses as an Egyptian, they were giving an accurate description. So why was Moses punished for not adding that he was a Hebrew or mentioning the Jewish homeland?

The answer can be found with Abraham, who was commanded by God to go to the Land of Israel. Living in the Land of Israel was not something meant exclusively for Abraham. Rather, it is for Jews to observe throughout the generations. When Abraham was given the Land of Israel for him and his descendants, that became the homeland of all Jews for all time. It is like circumcision, which was originally given to Abraham but meant to be observed by the Jewish people forever down the line.

Even though Moses was an “Egyptian” and had never lived in the Land of Israel, that did not matter.  A person usually associates himself with his true homeland, regardless of where he happens to be living at the time. Moses, for whatever reason, suppressed his true identity when being described as an “Egyptian.” Because he was silent, he was not allowed to enter the Land of Israel.

Although many of us do not currently live in the Land of Israel, and many have never even visited, nevertheless we learn an important lesson from this story. We are not merely Americans, Canadians, Australians or British. We are all, in the words of Joseph, “from the Land of the Hebrews,” from the Land of Israel.