SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY
by Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman (toratzion.com)
At the end of this week’s parashah, we find HaShem’s last commandment to Moshe
Rabbeinu: Ascend to this mount Avarim…, and see the Land of Canaan that I give to the
Children of Israel as an inheritance, and die on the mountain…, because you transgressed
against me…at the waters of Merivat-kadesh… For, you shall see the Land from a distance,
but you shall not go there, into the Land that I give to the Children of Israel (32:49-52).
In Parashat VaEtchanan, the Torah makes it clear that Moshe did not take this punishment
lightly. Even though he spoke to God “face to face” and reached the highest levels of Divine
perception, he offered 514 prayers (one less than the numerical value of the word
va’etchanan) to be allowed to enter the Land. Why did he want to enter the Land so badly?
What was he lacking in the desert, under the protective wings of the Shechinah? The Talmud
(Sotah 14a) answers that he wanted to fulfill the mitzvot that can be kept only in Eretz Yisrael.
Yes, even Moshe Rabbeinu was an incomplete Jew outside of God’s Chosen Land. This is
something we should all keep in mind, especially this year, 5761 (a former Shmittah year), when the inhabitants of
Eretz Yisrael have the privilege to keep the laws of Shemittah – the Sabbatical year.
However, despite all of Moshe’s prayers, HaShem did not allow him to enter – or even be
buried in – the Chosen Land. The only dispensation he was given was to see the Land from
How are we to relate to the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu was not privileged to enter the
Land? Or, more specifically, how should this affect our actions? The Talmud relates a story
that answers this question unequivocally.
When Rabbi Zeira went up to Eretz Yisrael, he could not find a boat to take him across
[the Jordan River]. So, he crossed using a metzra. (Rashi describes this as an unsteady “bridge”
made by placing a log across the river and tying a rope to two pegs on the two banks. This way, a person
can walk on the log while holding on to the rope to keep his balance.) A certain Sadducee [saw this
and] said, “You impetuous nation! You put your mouth before your ears (by saying na’aseh
before nishma – Rashi); and you are still impetuous!” R. Zeira replied, “Moshe and Aharon
were not privileged to enter this place; who says I will be privileged?” (Ketuvot 112a)
In other words, R. Zeira seized the first possible opportunity to enter the Land, because he
feared he would not be able to do so later on. After all, even Moshe and Aharon were denied
This is how we must view living in the Land of Israel, as a privilege. Perhaps someone
will say: “If so, it is out of my hands. If God feels that I am deserving, He will make sure
that I move there; and if not, all of my efforts are in vain.” This attitude is exactly what the
Gemara is trying to refute. R. Zeira understood that privileges are to be seized; they do not
come automatically. He also understood that there are no guarantees in life. If an opportunity
presents itself, one must not pass it up, because it might not be there later on.
For hundreds of years it was virtually impossible to live in Eretz Yisrael. Nowadays,
Baruch HaShem, things are different. One no longer needs to walk across a shaky log to enter
the Land. All he needs to do is “suffer” through five movies, two hot meals, and two
minyanim on an El Al plane. Granted, once a person gets here he might have to live a slightly
less comfortable life, but just think about all the extra mitzvot one can keep here. After all,
isn’t that what life is all about? And always keep in mind what Moshe Rabbeinu would do if
he were in your shoes – what he would give to have the opportunity to dwell in the King’s
THE FINAL STAGE OF HISTORY
Shirat Ha’azinu is basically a synopsis of Jewish history, starting with HaShem’s choice
of Am Yisrael and culminating in the final redemption, for which we so sorely yearn. It
therefore behooves us – the generation living so close to the End of Days – to study this Song
and learn its lessons.
Chazal tell us that this Song can be divided into six sections (see Rosh HaShanah 31a and
the Sforno on verse 7). Because of recent events, I would like to concentrate on the last
section – more specifically, the last verse – which speaks of the final redemption: – Sing, O
nations, the praises of His people, for He will avenge the blood of His servants; He will bring
vengeance upon His adversaries, and He will appease His Land and His people (32:43).
SING, O NATIONS, THE PRAISES OF HIS PEOPLE: At that time [when God takes vengeance on
them], the nations will praise Israel, [saying]: “See how praiseworthy this nation is.
They clung to the Holy One Blessed be He amidst all the troubles that befell them, and
they did not forsake Him. They knew His goodness and praise.”… AND HE WILL APPEASE
HIS LAND HIS PEOPLE: He will appease His Land and His people for the troubles that
befell them and [for what] the enemy did to them… AND HE WILL APPEASE HIS LAND: And
what is His Land? HIS PEOPLE. When His people are comforted, His Land is comforted, as it says, – You have desired, O Lord, Your Land (Tehillim 85:2). How
did you desire your Land? – You returned the captivity of Ya’akov (ibid.).
The Malbim states explicitly that this verse refers to the War of Gog and Magog:
AND HE WILL APPEASE HIS LAND AND HIS PEOPLE: After [the Jews] settle in Eretz Yisrael,
[God] will bring their adversaries upon them for a war. This is the war of Gog and
Magog. And there, on the mountains of Israel, they will fall. Then, both His Land and
His people will be appeased simultaneously.
The following scenario emerges from these and many other sources (e.g., Yechezkel 38-39
concerning the War of Gog and Magog): The Jews will return to their Land after terrible
persecutions (see Sforno on v. 26). There they will find partial tranquility (see Yechezkel
38:8), but God will eventually incite their enemies against them. Then, He will destroy these
enemies in retribution for all of the evils they did to His people throughout history.
Sound familiar? Sound a little like current events? Perhaps you think that all of this is a
little unrealistic? Read the following Ramban, which sums up the Shirah:
This Song, which serves us as a true and faithful witness, tells us clearly everything that
happens to us. First, it mentions the kindness that the Holy One Blessed be He did for us
ever since He took us as His portion. It mentions the good things He did for us in the
desert, and the fact that He bequeathed us the lands of great and mighty nations. [It tells
about] the wealth and honor that He bestowed upon us in the Land, and how [the Jews]
rebelled against HaShem and served foreign gods amidst all this good. It also mentions
how He became so angry with them that He sent pestilence, famine, wild animals, and
war upon them in their Land. Afterwards, He scattered them in every direction and to
every corner. It is well known that all of this actually happened.
The Shirah says that in the end, [God] will bring vengeance upon His adversaries and
take retribution upon those who hate Him. The reason being, because they did all those
evil things to us out of their hatred for the Holy One Blessed be He… It is clear that
this is a promise regarding the future redemption, for during the Second Temple the
nations did not sing the praise of His people; rather, they mocked them… And in those
days He did not bring vengeance upon His adversaries, and His Land did not appease
Behold, this Shirah does not contain any condition of repentance or [Divine]
service. Rather, it is a document testifying that the evil deeds were done… and that the
Blessed One will rebuke us with anger, but He will not wipe us out. Rather, He will
once again show compassion and take retribution on [our] enemies with a harsh, great,
and strong sword; and He will atone our sins for the sake of His name. Thus, this Song
is a clear promise about the future redemption, in spite of the heretics…
[Even] had this Shirah been written by one of the astrologers, who foretold the
end, it would be fitting to believe it, because all of its words have come true so far,
not one word has fallen short…
May we all be zocheh to see this come true, speedily in our days. Amen.
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of
man, He set the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the Children of Israel
WHEN THE MOST HHIGH GAVE THE NATIONS THEIR INHERITANCE: [When] He gave each nation
its [territorial] inheritance. WHEN HE SEPARATED THE CHILDREN OF MAN, in the Generation
of Dispersion [BeReishit 11], when He dispersed them, and each person went off to his
own place. HE SET THE BOUNDARIES OF THE NATIONS ACCORDING TO THE NUMBER OF THE
CHILDREN OF ISRAEL: He chose a [territorial] inheritance for the twelve tribes, who had not
yet been born, and gave it over to the twelve sons of Canaan, who are servants to Shem’s
descendants [i.e., the Jews]… [He gave it to them specifically] so that they could not
protest at all [when the Jews eventually conquered it], because a servant’s possessions
belong to his master. They guarded [the Land] until its [true] masters, the Children of
Israel, came and took it away from them… (Chizkuni; see also Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, and
He [God] made him [Israel] ride on the high places of the Land, and he ate the produce of
the fields; He enabled him to suck honey from a stone, and oil from a flinty rock. Butter of
cattle and milk of sheep with fat of lambs, and rams bred in Bashan, and he-goats, with fat of
kidney-[sized] wheat; and you drank wine of the blood of the grape (32:13-14).
HE MADE HIM RIDE ON THE HIGH PLACES OF THE LAND… [This expression is used] because
Eretz Yisrael is higher than all other lands. AND HE ATE THE PRODUCE OF THE FIELDS: This
refers to the fruits of Eretz Yisrael, which bud and ripen quicker than the fruits of all
other lands. (Rashi quoting Sifrei)
HE MADE HIM RIDE ON THE HIGH PLACES OF THE LAND: [This refers to] the Land of Canaan,
which is the center of the entire settlement [i.e. world]. (R. Avraham Ibn Ezra)
BUTTER OF CATTLE: The simple meaning is, a Land flowing with milk and
an abundance of meat for them to eat. (Rashbam)
Sing, O nations, the praises of His people, for He will avenge the blood of His servants; He
will bring vengeance upon His adversaries, and He will appease His Land and His people
AND HE WILL APPEASE HIS LAND HIS PEOPLE: I.e., His Land and His people. The Midrash
interprets [the phrase] to mean: His Land will atone for His people [as R. Meir says in
the Sifrei, “Anyone who dwells in Eretz Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael atones for him…”].
Chazal state at the end of Ketuvot (111a): “Whoever is buried in Eretz Yisrael is as if
he is buried beneath the altar…” This is part of the secret of man’s creation, for the
Blessed One created him from the place of his atonement… And this is the uniqueness
of the Land, which is the palace of the King and is called The Land of the Lord and The inheritance of the Lord. Scriptures refer to anything outside of it as chutzot
(“outskirts”), and tents of evil. And Chazal call it “the lands of the nations,” whose soil
and air are defiled and cause defilement… (Rabbeinu Bachya)
For it [Torah] is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this thing you
shall lengthen your days on the Land to which you cross the Jordan to possess it (32:47).
FOR IT [TORAH] IS NOT AN EMPTY THING FOR YOU: Do not say that this does not affect us,
only our children. Not so! It affects you as well. FOR IT IS YOUR LIFE: We already
explained that observing the Torah is [the essence of] life; and teaching and inspiring the
children is a part of the Torah… By inspiring your children, you will fulfill a part of the
Torah and remain alive on a personal level, as explained above [30:19]. Furthermore,
THROUGH THIS THING YOU SHALL LENGTHEN YOUR DAYS ON THE LAND: The advantage of the
Song is that it will prevent the children from going astray and help them repent and
return to their Land when they do go astray. And that [certainly] affects you, for through
this [process] you will remain alive as a species. For, the preservation of the Jewish
species is accomplished only when they dwell in the Land and observe the Torah.