When you have a sincere desire to do good deeds, God gives you credit for performing them, even if circumstances beyond your control prevent you from actually doing them.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Va’etchanan” (Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11), which features two primary episodes: (1) Moses begging God to rescind the decree barring him from entering the land of Israel, and (2) the Ten Commandments “second edition.”

This article focuses on the first episode and the verses: “I begged God at that time, saying, ‘God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand, for who is like You in heaven or on earth who can do as Your deeds and Your might? Please let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.’ …

And God said to me, ‘It is enough. Speak no more to Me regarding this matter. Go up to the top of the hill and lift your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward and see the land with your eyes, for you shall not cross thee Jordan. But command Joshua and strengthen him and encourage him, for he will lead the people and he will make them inherit the land which you will see.'” (Deut 3:23-28)

Moses begs God to allow him to enter the promised Land.

The result? Not only he is his request denied, but he is also instructed to cease making the request.

To make matters worse, God then tells him to go the top of the mountain and look at the land, even though he will not be allowed to enter it. Is there any greater torment than this?

And then God tells Moses that not he, but Joshua, will lead the people into the Land of Israel and orders Moses to encourage and prepare Joshua for the job! Talk about rubbing it in Moses’ face. Why does God seem to be mean?

One explanation focuses on the underlying motivation driving Moses’ deep desire to enter the Land of Israel.

Moses didn’t want to enter Israel to enjoy its beaches and falafel shops.

Moses wanted to enter the land so that he could perform the many mitzvot (Torah commandments) that can be performed only in the Land of Israel. Although observing Shabbat and the holiday and eating kosher food,among others, are all mitzvot that can (and must!) be performed anywhere in the world, all land- and agricultural-related mitzvot can be performed only in the Land of Israel.

There is a principle that one who makes an effort to perform a mitzvah is credited with having performed the mitzvah even if he or she actually hasn’t. As such, God aroused an extreme desire in Moses to enter the land so that He could credit him with having performed the mitzvot in the land through his desire to do so.

This is a clear and important message for us. We should always have a sincere desire to perform mitzvot and good deeds. In this way, we will be credited with having performed them even if circumstances beyond our control prevent us from doing so.

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below: