May 27, 2024
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This week’s parsha of Va’etchanan is spiritually supercharged: the Ten Commandments appear once again, the first paragraph of the Shema, the Jewish people are charged to teach our children and much more. But the very last mitzvah which Moshe performs in his life — on the very day of his death, 7 Adar —is to designate three arei miklat, cities of refuge, east of the Jordan River: Bezer, Ramot and Golan.

Why, we might ask, was this mitzvah davka the final achievement in Moshe’s momentous life? It seems like an almost obscure, minor act; especially if we consider that these cities would not come under Israel’s control for many, many years to come — only in Yehoshua’s time, after the western territory was finally subdued. Why does Moshe’s existence in this world come to its close with this mitzvah in particular?

We shall come back to that question in a moment. But first, let us examine an oft-neglected verse in our parsha: Moshe wants to impress upon bnei Yisrael just how miraculous their journey from Egyptian slavery to nationhood was.

He says to them: “Since time began, has anyone ever seen anything so great; God speaking from amidst the fire, with signs and wonders, and one nation being extricated from within another nation and firmly establishing themselves? Has anyone in history, at any time, ever even dared to claim such an awesome event?”

So amazing and miraculous was our deliverance from Egypt that not only did it never occur in history either before or since, but no one even had the audacity to try to invent such an unbelievable scenario!

But Moshe’s dramatic statement was not just a history lesson. It was a prophecy from the mouth of our greatest prophet, foretelling that such a thing would happen on our behalf yet again! For when the modern State of Israel was established, we would once again have the merit to witness a people emerging out of other peoples, and returning triumphantly to our land to reclaim our Divine heritage. From virtually every country where Jews had been exiled, we marched back to Israel, amid undeniable signs, wonders, wars and miracles.

And so I ask you: has this ever happened to any other people? While many countries throughout history gained their independence —Hong Kong, for example, freed itself from British occupation and returned to Chinese rule, while several eastern European nations broke away from Soviet rule and declared independence —yet no other people, scattered across seven continents, ever returned to its ancestral homeland and re-established their sovereignty, language and culture!

I suggest that this is the significance of Moshe’s last mitzvah and a testament to his undying devotion to his beloved people. Moshe was subtly telling Am Yisrael that it may take many, many years, during which we would undergo trial and trauma in the long and bitter exile, but eventually we would reaffirm our destiny by living in our own land and taking control of all those places which Hashem eternally promised to us —on both sides of the Jordan: from Be’er Sheva to Bezer, from Ginot Shomron to Golan, from Ra’anana to Ramot.

Moshe left this world with an unshakeable faith in the ultimate destiny of the Jewish People. It is precisely this faith which allows us to endure the most horrendous of tragedies — the destruction of both Batei Mikdash, the Holocaust —and still go forward to glory. “Nachamu, nachamu …” — Just as we were comforted in that past by overcoming our adversaries, so shall we be comforted always, until we reach that final destination of the geulah shleimah.


Rabbi Stewart Weiss is director of the Ra’anana Jewish Outreach Center ([email protected]), leads kosher tours around the world and is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).

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