For the week ending 19 February 2005 / 10 Adar I 5765


by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: H.J. Erner in Lake Worth, FL

Dear Rabbi,

If Moshe was unable to realize his dream of entering Israel because of one so-called transgression, how are we who are nowhere near what he was, to aspire to our dreams? I find it hard to believe that he should be judged by a higher standard because of who he was.

Dear H. J. Erner,

You say Moshe was held to a higher standard. Higher is obviously relative. True, Moshe was held to a higher standard than others. However, Moshe wasn't held to a higher standard than Moshe. That is, the standard of conduct expected of Moshe was a standard of conduct befitting him. Each person is judged only according to his or her potential. Regarding this, only G-d is the perfect Judge.

The problem is that we are so distant from the high level of righteousness achieved by Moshe that we can barely understand what it was that he did "wrong". But to say that all people should be judged by the same yardstick is to deny the difference between individuals. Clearly, a person with limited talent or intelligence who puts everything hes got into achieving something mediocre is much more praiseworthy than an intelligent, talented person who puts little into achieving something above average. In fact, while the former is to be lauded, the latter may be held accountable. Even though he has attained quantitatively more, relative to his potential hes attained quantitatively and qualitatively much less.

Furthermore, a leader must consider not only the propriety of an action, but also how others will perceive the action. People look to a Torah leader as an example of uprightness, and therefore his actions have greater ramifications. Someone as influential and exemplary as Moshe is expected to be all the more careful, refined and correct in his words and deeds. Since Moshe missed an opportunity as the leader to bring the people to greater heights of spiritual awareness, even though his actual "mistake" was quite subtle, he lost the right to be the leader and was buried outside the Land.

There's another reason Moshe was denied entrance into the Promised Land. Moshe symbolizes eternity, as the Torah he passed on is eternal. If he would have brought the people of Israel into the Land of Israel, their physical connection would have been eternal such that they could never be extirpated from it. While this is a desirable condition when the Jewish people are fulfilling G-ds will, it would preclude exile as punishment for wrongdoing. If so, when Israel sinned they would have been destroyed, G-d forbid, instead of being dispersed among the nations. Once the peoples physical connection was not irrevocable but rather depended on their merit and G-ds kindness, when it was necessary to correct His wayward children G-d directed His "wrath" against the wood and stone of the Land rather than against the flesh and blood of His children. Rather than destroying His people, He sent them into exile.

"Return us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old" (Eicha 5:21).

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