וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם בֶּן מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה אָנֹכִי הַיּוֹם לֹא אוּכַל עוֹד לָצֵאת וְלָבוֹא וַידֹוָד אָמַר אֵלַי לֹא תַעֲבֹר אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה: (דברים לא:ב)
On the pasuk, “Ben meah vesrim shanah anochi hayom—I (Moshe Rabbeinu) am 120 years old today,” the midrash comments, “On this day, I was born and, on this day, I will die.” This is the meaning of the pasuk, “Lo kom Navi oid beYisrael keMoshe—And no other prophet rose in Yisrael like Moshe.”
Zera Shimshon comments that this midrash is simply baffling! Firstly, what was bothering the midrash that the midrash is answering? Secondly, why is it important for the Torah to tell us that Moshe Rabbeinu passed away on his birthday? And, lastly, what is the connection between the fact that Moshe died on his birthday and the pasuk,“Lo kom Navi oid beYisrael keMoshe—And no other prophet rose in Yisrael like Moshe.”
He explains—in light of the Zohar—that says that, even though, on a number of occasions, Moshe Rabbeinu proclaimed to Hashem that he was willing to give up his life to save klal Yisroel, there was only one time that Hashem actually consented. In parshas Behaaloscha, when the “masses among them (the asafsuf)” complained about the manna, Moshe complained to Hashem about his being the leader of klal Yisroel and, out of anger, he told Hashem that if this is his lot, to lead Bnei Yisroel, then Hashem should kill him! We see that Hashem consented because at the end of the incident, Eldad and Meidad had a prophecy that Moshe would die and that Yehoshua was the one that would lead klal Yisroel into Eretz Yisroel. Why did Hashem give them this prophecy specifically at that time; if not, because it was at that time that Hashem decreed that Moshe should die because of what he said?
According to this, Zera Shimshon explains that the midrash was bothered that it seems from this incident that Moshe caused his own death, which is something very degrading.
The midrash, therefore, learns from the word “hayom—today,” that his passing away is not at all connected with what he said with the following logic. We learn from the word “hayom” in the phrase,“ … meah vesrim shana onochi hayom—I am 120 years old today,” that the day that Moshe died was also the day that he was born. The reason that Hashem causes a tzaddik to die on his birthday, is because the tzaddik deserves to live the full amount of years that he was allotted to him when he was born. If he was allotted, for instance, 80 years, he deserves to live 80 full years. If he was allotted 120 years, he deserves to live the full 120 years. If Moshe caused that he died before the time that he was allotted when he was born, there would be no reason to complete the year in which he died; since, even if he died on the date that he was born on, he would still not have lived all the years allotted to him. Therefore, the midrash concludes from the fact that he didn’t die early, that he was not the cause of his own death, but rather the time that was allotted to him ran out.
How, though, is this connected to the pasuk, “Lo kom Navi oid beYisrael keMoshe—And no other prophet rose in Yisrael like Moshe?”
He explains that this pasuk is not coming to praise Moshe, but it is saying that Moshe’s greatness was not only in his merit but was mainly in the merit of Bnei Yisrael (as Rashi writes after the incident of the golden calf). This is what the words in the pasuk, “No prophet rose in Yisrael,” mean, in that, “No prophet rose for the benefit of Yisrael.
Therefore, since Moshe’s greatness was for the purpose to serve the generation of the ones who received the Torah; we can understand that when they all died, there was no reason for Moshe to continue to live.
In other words, the midrash presents two proofs that Moshe did not die because of what he said to Hashem in his anger. The first proof is the fact that Hashem had Moshe pass away on his birthday, and—included in this is that—he lived all the years that were allotted to him when he was born. And the second proof is the fact that he was only a prophet for the benefit of that generation and since they all died—out-lived—he fulfilled the purpose of his creation, to serve that generation. Since he fulfilled the purpose of his being born, he passed away and it was not because of his own curse.
A question still remains though—now that we established that Moshe did not die because of the curse he gave himself during the incident of the “asafsuf”—why did Eldad and Meidad specifically prophesize, at that time, that Moshe will die and Yehoshua will lead Bnei Yisroel into Eretz Yisroel?
Zera Shimshon explains that the ruach hakodesh that descended on the other 70 elders that Moshe chose at that time was because they became a part of the Sanhedrin to assist Moshe in leading Bnei Yisroel. However, Eldad and Meidad “stayed in the camp”—meaning that they didn’t feel that they deserved such honor—and, therefore, didn’t go to help Moshe to take care of Bnei Yisroel. They probably wondered at that time—since Moshe Rabbeinu was still living and his level of prophecy was obviously much higher than theirs—what was the purpose of their prophecy. Whatever Hashem would show them, Moshe also knew! Therefore—through the ruach hakodesh that descended on them—Hashem informed them that Moshe would, eventually, die and their prophecy was not in vain. It had nothing to do with Moshe cursing himself to die.