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Posted on July 2, 2021
As we near the end of Sefer B’Midbar, the Book of Numbers, the people of Israel are ready to enter the Land of Israel. The 40 years of traveling are coming to a close. Both Miriam and Aaron died in parashat Hukat, two weeks ago. The job of apportioning the Land of Israel to tribes and to families is underway. A generation ago the people refused to go into the Land when they were told to do so; now there are folks clamoring for a share in the apportionment, even though at first they are not eligible for it. (For more on the daughters of Tzelofehad, join me tomorrow morning in person or by livestream. We will be studying their request and what came of it.)
Immediately following the story of the women who wanted a share in the Land, we read: “The LORD said to Moses, “Ascend these heights of Abarim and view the land that I have given to the Israelite people. When you have seen it, you too shall be gathered to your kin, just as your brother Aaron was” Num. 27:12-13. The midrash says that when Moses saw that God had answered the daughters of Tzelofehad favorably and had granted them a share in the Land, his heart leaped at the idea that he too could get a share in the Land. He hoped beyond hope that the decree against him and his entering the Land was annulled. He wanted to go into Israel with everyone else. So God had to tell him that it was not to be.
This is a particularly extreme example. But we all have times in our lives when we have to confront unfulfilled expectations and unrealized hopes, when we have to deal with the fact that things did not work out the way we expected or wanted. There are times when we have to make choices about how we are going to pick up our pieces and go forward. What are we going to do next? It is never easy. The midrash imagines Moses arguing with God, pleading with God, trying to make a deal with God, in his attempt to get the decision reversed. The midrash imagines anger and the midrash imagines despair, responses to which we can very much relate. But in the Torah, the very next thing that Moses says is: “We need a new leader for the people, so they should not be like sheep that have no shepherd” (paraphrase of Num. 27:15-17). He knows he will not enter Israel; he wants to make sure that things go well for the people when they do.