Why was it necessary for MosheRabbeinu to die at this point?
(31,1) “And Moshe went and spoke these words to all Yisrael. And he said to them: I am one hundred and twenty years old today. I can no longer go out or come in, and Hashem said to me: You shall not cross this Jordan.”
Chazal tell us that when Moshe Rabbeinu said “I am one hundred and twenty years old today”, he was saying that his days and years were now complete. But what difference does this make, and for what purpose was he telling them this? They further taught that the words “I can no longer go out and come in” mean that he could no longer discuss Torah matters, and this teaches that the channels of transmission and the well-springs of wisdom were closed to him. The commentaries explain that this was in order that he should not be distressed that his authority was taken from him and given to Yehoshua. But this is astonishing, because the closing of the well-springs of wisdom would have distressed him much more than the matter of his authority. We also need to understand what the words “to go out and come in” mean, and what relevance the last words “and Hashem said to me: You shall not cross this Jordan” have to the whole statement.
Further on in posuk 14, it says, “And Hashem said to Moshe: Behold, your days are drawing near to die. Call Yehoshua and stand in the tent of meeting, and I will command him. And Moshe and Yehoshua went and stood in the tent of meeting”. Why was it necessary that they both stand there together at the same time, with Hashem commanding first Moshe and afterwards Yehoshua? Surely Hashem could have told Yehoshua to come by himself to the tent of meeting at a different time and address him then.
The Torah continues, “And Hashem appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the pillar of cloud stood at the entrance of the tent. And Hashem said to Moshe: Behold, you are about to lie with your forefathers…”. Why does it tell us that the cloud stood at the entrance of the tent, and what difference does it make whether the cloud was in the tent itself or outside the entrance of the tent?
We find something similar to this in parshas Beha’alosecha - “And Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe regarding the Cushite woman that he had married…and Hashem said suddenly to Moshe and to Aharon and to Miriam: Go out, all three of you, to the tent of meeting. And all three went out. And Hashem descended in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent. And He called to Aharon and Miriam, and they both went out. And He said: Please listen to My words. If there be a prophet among you…”.
In that parsha also we have similar questions - why did Hashem call all three of them to the tent of meeting since He only spoke with Aharon and Miriam? Several commentaries there asked the same question (see the answer brought in the sefer HaIkarim Section 3, Chapter 11). Also, why does it mention that the cloud stood at the entrance - what difference does it make? Behold, earlier in that parsha it says that Moshe “assembled seventy men of the elders of the people, and stood them around the tent. And Hashem descended in a cloud and spoke to him…”, and it does not write there whether it stood at the entrance or not, so why here does it explain that it stood at the entrance? Also in parshas Korach and in several other places where Hashem revealed Himself in a cloud, it never mentions that it stood specifically in the entrance of the tent. This is a remarkable thing, and we need a reason why these two places are different. Also, why did He call them out from the tent of meeting? (Rashi asked the same question there).
Our parsha continues in posuk 23, “And He commanded Yehoshua bin Nun, and said: Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the children of Yisrael to the land that I have sworn to them, and I will be with you”. Rashi explains here that even though the previous posuk talks about Moshe, and so one might think that it is Moshe who is commanding Yehoshua here, actually it refers back to the earlier posuk, where Hashem is speaking. The proof for this is that it says in this posuk “to the land that I have sworn to them”. The commentaries ask why Rashi did not bring a proof from the fact that it says “and I will be with you”, and did not write "He will be with you"? Also, why did the Torah not write explicitly "And Hashem commanded Yehoshua bin Nun"?
The Midrash on the beginning of our parsha writes that it is difficult for Hashem to decree death on Tzaddikim. You can see this from the fact that He should have said to Moshe "Behold, you are about to die", but instead He attributed his death to the days, as it says, “Behold, your days are drawing near to die”. But what real difference is there if it had written this or that? Either way the intention is that he will die.
It says further in the Midrash that the Rabbis said: To what is the matter comparable? To a dear friend of the King who honoured the King by bringing him a sharp sword as a present, and the King ordered that his head should be cut off with that sword. He said to the King: My lord, the King, with that very thing with which I honoured you, you are cutting off my head! So did Moshe say to Hashem: Master of the World, I praised You with the word "Behold", as it is written “Behold, to Hashem, your G-d, are the heavens and the heaven of the heavens, the earth, and all that is in it” (Devarim 10:14), yet with the word "Behold" you decree upon me death! Hashem said to him: A bad neighbour sees his neighbour’s income but not his expenses. Do you not remember that when I sent you to redeem Yisrael from Egypt you said to Me, “Behold, they will not believe me”.
This Midrash is puzzling, because the parable is not the same as the analogy. In the parable he cut off his head with the same sword, and so the King’s friend argued “With the very same thing with which I honoured you…”, but here, is his death dependent on the word "Behold"? And what does “Behold, your days are drawing near” have to do with “Behold, to Hashem, your G-d, belong the heavens…”. Also, was Hashem decreeing death upon Moshe right now? Surely He had already decreed it upon him!
To explain all this, let us first revisit what I wrote on parshas Yisro to explain the posukim in Shmuel, and the statement of Chazal that Hashem grabbed Yerovom by his clothing. What comes out from there is that on the day that the one hundred and twenty years of Moshe Rabbeinu’s life were completed, the period of Torah was also completed, and the period of prophecy began. Now, those spiritual attributes which are present in עש"ן (in place, in time, and in the soul - see parshas Bereishis), even at a time when a certain atrribute is not active it is nevertheless in the world, that is, in that place in the world where that attribute has been assigned. This is because the attribute has not been abolished from time, but rather when that time arrives in the following year, the attribute will return. However, once the time of the aspect and level of Torah has passed, then it will also not be present in any place in the world, because the Torah never changes and there will be no other Torah. Therefore, the days of Torah return to their source, and do not remain either in time or in place.
Therefore, even though we wrote that the tent of meeting was the place in the world which was the level of Torah, and so from there Hashem always spoke to Moshe, this was only during the days of Moshe which was the period of Torah. But once the days of Moshe, which were the days of Torah, returned to their source never to return, this was no longer so.
Thus the Midrash explained “Behold, your days are drawing near to die”, that Hashem attributed his death to the days. That is, since the days are being removed never to return, no longer will there be the level of Torah, neither in time nor in place, and so it will only remain in the soul of Moshe Rabbeinu. Therefore it will be annulled by the other two, by time and place, and so he will no longer be able to continue speaking from the aspect of Torah.
But Moshe wished to live on, even if this would only be on the level of prophecy. However, even this was impossible, because the place for the level of prophecy is only in Eretz Yisrael, on the other side of the Jordan, and not in the land of Sichon and Og, which were not completely sanctified with the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, as the sefer Parshas Derachim discussed at length.
Now, Yehoshua and the other prophets attained prophecy even in the land of Sichon and Og, even though the place is not a place of prophecy, because their souls were from the level of prophecy and the time after the days of Moshe was the time of prophecy. So the place was annulled in the majority and they were able to attain prophecy. But this was not so by Moshe Rabbeinu, whose soul was Torah and the time was prophecy, and so he would not have been able to attain prophecy.
Of course, if he were to cross the Jordan which is a place of prophecy and a time of prophecy, the level of his soul would have been annulled one in two, and he would have gone out from the level of Torah and come into the level of prophecy. But since it had been decreed on him that he cannot cross the Jordan, he could not go out from the level of Torah and enter the level of prophecy, and if so, the well-springs of wisdom were closed to him, because he was not able to continue speaking, neither from aspect of Torah, nor from the aspect of prophecy. And so he saw that there was no need for him to continue living.
This is the explanation of the first posuk, that since Moshe knew that Yisrael would be distressed about his death, he explained to them all these facts. He said, “one hundred and twenty years old I am today”, and since my days and years are completed, so too the aspect of Torah is completed. And “I am not able to go out and come in”, to go out from the the level of Torah and enter the level of prophecy, because “Hashem said to me: You shall not cross this Jordan”, and therefore I must die.
However, we still need to ask that since it is difficult for Hashem to decree death on Tzaddikim, and Moshe only died because the well-springs of wisdom were closed to him, why could Hashem not have had the days of Torah continue, and then the well-springs of wisdom would not have been closed to him?
But the posuk in Tehillim 115:16 says “the heavens are the heavens of Hashem, but the earth He gave to the children of men”. That is, the holiness of the heavens and all the worlds always remains the same, because Hashem conducts them Himself. Therefore they always have the same level of holiness, each world according to its value. But the earth is the domain of humans whom Hashem created with free will, and so they regulate the holiness of the earth according to the measure of their holiness and deeds. Therefore, once the level of the souls of Yisrael had been reduced to the level of prophecy, it was impossible for the time of Torah to continue, because the earth He gave to the children of men, and Hashem will not change matters from what their level dictates.
But on the other hand we see that in the days of Yechezkel, when they all wanted to cast off the yoke of holiness from themselves, Hashem said “that which comes into your mind shall not be at all…surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with poured out fury, will I reign over you” (Yechezkel 20:32). We see from this that sometimes Hashem does change matters from that which the conduct of people dictates. Indeed, it says elsewhere in Tehillim 24:2 “to Hashem is the earth and all that it contains”, and this contradicts the posuk “but the earth He gave to the children of men”.
But really both of them are true. That even though for the most part the earth is conducted according to the measure of the peoples’ holiness and deeds, and Hashem does not change from this, nevertheless, sometimes for the needs of the world, He conducts matters in the manner of “to Hashem is the earth and all that it contains”, and everything is in His hands, as in the days of Yechezkel when He acted with a sharp sword and poured out fury because there was a necessity for this.
For this reason, when Moshe Rabbeinu asked at the burning bush “Behold, they will not believe me, for they will say that Hashem did not appear to you”, Hashem told him that he should make for them signs, and then they will believe. But initially Hashem did not command him concerning the signs, and this implies that Hashem did not think that this was necessary. Therefore, we should be astonished at Moshe for asking “Behold, they will not believe me”, for is Hashem not capable of putting into their hearts to believe, even though they were on a very low level, sunk in the impurity of Egypt, and so were not by their nature believers? But Moshe was arguing from the aspect of “the earth He gave to the children of men”, and since he understood that they were not on the level of believers, it would be impossible to redeem them. And as a result of Moshe’s argument, Hashem commanded him about the signs.
And Moshe himself, even though initially he asked “Behold, they will not believe me”, which was from the aspect of “the earth He gave to the children of men”, nevertheless, in the end he retracted from this and said, “behold, to Hashem is the heavens, and the heavens of the heavens, the earth and everything therein”, which is the same as “to Hashem is the earth and all that it contains”. That just as the conduct and holiness of the heavens is handed over only to Hashem, so too “the earth and all that is in it”, as I wrote above.
And therefore Moshe now, in our parsha, argued that since it is difficult for Hashem to decree death on Tzaddikim, let Him act in the way of “to Hashem is the earth and all that it contains”, and allow the time of Torah to continue in the world, since when there is a need and a benefit Hashem acts this way, changing matters from that which the level of the people dictates. Thus Moshe would be able to continue living.
This is what the posuk is saying: “And Hashem said…behold, your days are drawing near to die”, that since his death was difficult for Hashem, He made his death dependent on the days. That since his days, which are the days of Torah, are being removed, the well-springs of wisdom will be closed to him, and so it is good for him to die. To this Moshe Rabbeinu argued: Since my death is difficult, behold, I have honoured You with a sharp sword, and I said “to Hashem…is the earth and everything therein”, that is, You sometimes act with a sharp sword and poured out fury, and if so, there is no necessity for me to die. But Hashem replied to him: Surely you said “Behold they will not believe me”, which is an argument from the aspect that “the earth He gave to the children of men”.
Now, the day that Moshe Rabbeinu died was an intermediate level, comprising both the level of Torah and the level of prophecy, because it was the end of the period of Torah and the beginning of the period of prophecy. Similarly, we see that the speaking that was directed to Yehoshua was an intermediate type, because Yehoshua was only a prophet, and yet those words were written in the Torah. So we see in this speaking an aspect of Torah and an aspect of prophecy, again because that day was the end of the period of Torah and the beginning of the period of prophecy.
However, there is a problem - since the soul of Yehoshua was only one of prophecy, how was it possible for that intermediate level of speaking to reach him? It couldn’t be inside the tent of meeting, because the place was one of Torah, the soul was one of prophecy, and the time was intermediate. And it couldn’t be outside of the tent of meeting, because then the soul and the place were of prophecy and the time was intermediate.
However, the gemora in Mesechta Shabbos says regarding a private domain that the entranceway serves both the inside and the outside. That is, it is sometimes like the inside and sometimes like the outside. So we see that the entranceway is intermediate between the inside and the outside, and therefore the Torah informs us that the pillar of cloud stood in the entrance of the tent, and so the both the time and the place were intermediate, and so he could receive the intermediate speech.
However, because Yehoshua had not yet received speech during the days of Moshe, it was necessary that the first speaking would be the upper voice clothed in the voice of Moshe, and both voices were clothed in the speaking of Yehoshua (this is a complex subject, and it is explained in great detail in parshas Shemos). Therefore, Hashem said to Moshe to call Yehoshua and to stand together in the tent of meeting, so that Yehoshua will speak to Moshe in order that the two voices become clothed in his voice, as I wrote elsewhere in the matter of Shmuel with Eli. And thus they did - they went together and the speaking was directed initially to Moshe, and afterwards the two voices became clothed in the voice of Yehoshua, and thus he received the speaking that was relevant to him.
This is why it says “and he commanded Yehoshua”, but does not specify who is the one commanding, because then it can bear two interpretations - or that Hashem was the one commanding, or Moshe, and both of them are true. Really it came from Hashem, as we see from the fact that it says “which I swore”, but because it was clothed in the voice of Moshe, both interpretations are true.
This same thing is what happened in parshas Beha’alosecha. Both Miriam and Aharon were on the level of prophecy, and the speaking, “hear now My words…”, was directed at them. And yet these words were written in the Torah, so these words must have been intermediate between Torah and prophecy. But this is a problem, because the time and the place were both of Torah, and even if Hashem temporarily put in their souls an intermediate aspect for the needs of that moment, still it would have been annulled in time and place. Therefore, the Torah informs us that the pillar of cloud stood at the entrance of the tent, so that the place was also intermediate, and so the time which was of Torah was annulled in the other two.
And the way that Hashem put in their souls an intermediate aspect, was by commanding all three of them to go to the tent of meeting, and there the upper voice clothed itself in the voice of Moshe, and the two voices together clothed themselves in the voices of Aharon and Miriam, resulting in an intermediate aspect. And therefore initially the three of them entered the tent of meeting, and afterwards when the two voices were clothed in their voice, Hashem called them to go out of the tent of meeting to the entrance, which, as we have explained, was also intermediate.
There He reproved them about what had happened and said: Look at what just transpired. “If there be a prophet among you” it has to be in a vision, and only because “I make Myself known to him” - referring to Moshe. That is, it was impossible for you to receive this speaking which is an intermediate aspect except through the clothing of his voice, like we explained. So why were you not afraid to speak against him?
With this we have answered our question why it never writes anywhere else that the pillar of cloud stood at the entrance of the tent, because every time that that the pillar of cloud descended to the tent of meeting, Hashem spoke with Moshe alone, and that speaking was the aspect of Torah. So too regarding the seventy elders, they stood around the tent and the speaking was only to Moshe. But in our case and by Aharon and Miriam where the speaking was an intermediate aspect, it was necessary to be in the entrance, as I have explained.