Sefer Devarim begins with Bnei Yisrael about to enter Eretz Yisrael after forty years of wandering through the desert. Moshe Rabbeinu however, was not going with them. This sefer is his “farewell address” to the nation, in which he gives the nation Mussar and guidance to take with them into the Land. The first way he gives Mussar is through telling over the history of their journey through the desert.
Moshe spends a significant amount of time talking about the sin of the Meraglim (Spies). He tells over that that entire generation was not allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael and died in the desert. All except two people, Calev and Yehoshua, since they were the only two spies to bring back a favorable report about Eretz Yisrael. The pesukim read like this: “זוּלָתִי כָּלֵב בֶּן יְפֻנֶּה הוּא יִרְאֶנָּה וְלוֹ אֶתֵּן אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר דָּרַךְ בָּהּ וּלְבָנָיו יַעַן אֲשֶׁר מִלֵּא אַחֲרֵי יְהוָה. גַּם בִּי הִתְאַנַּף יְהוָה בִּגְלַלְכֶם לֵאמֹר גַּם אַתָּה לֹא תָבֹא שָׁם. … יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן הָעֹמֵד לְפָנֶיךָ הוּא יָבֹא שָׁמָּה” “Except Calev the son of Yephuneh, he will see it, and I will give him the land that he trod upon, and to his children, because he has completely followed Hashem. Hashem was also angry with me because of you, saying, ‘Neither will you go there’. But Yehoshua the son of Nun, who stands before you he will go there…” (Devarim 1:36-39).
Snuck in between the pesukim about Calev and Yehoshua is a statement from Moshe that he too cannot enter Eretz Yisrael, and blames Bnei Yisrael for Hashem’s anger against him. Moshe’s blame here is puzzling. It is well known that the reason Moshe could not enter Eretz Yisrael was because of an incident back in Parshas Chukas where he was supposed to draw water from a rock by speaking to it. Instead, Moshe did not follow Hashem’s instructions and hit the rock which caused a Chilul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name. As a result, Moshe was not allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael. So why does Moshe mention here, right in the middle of him saying who the two people are that can enter Eretz Yisrael, that he cannot go in? And furthermore, the reason Moshe couldn’t go in wasn’t connected to the spies, so why mention it here?
To answer this question, we must reexamine the story in Parshas Chukas. There are many varying opinions as to what Moshe’s exact sin was. The pasuk says, “וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל אַהֲרֹן יַעַן לֹא הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לָכֵן לֹא תָבִיאוּ אֶת הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָהֶם” “And Hashem said to Moshe and to Aharon, ‘Since you did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Bnei Yisrael, therefore you shall not bring this assembly to the Land which I have given them” (Bamidbar 20:12). The Kli Yakar explains that Moshe was supposed to raise the Bnei Yisrael’s level of faith in Hashem by speaking to the rock and having the water flow from it. By hitting it, he did nothing to raise their faith and was punished for it. This seems to indicate that if the Nation’s level of faith had already been high, it would have been unnecessary to hit the rock and Moshe would not have been punished.
So what caused Bnei Yisrael’s faith in Hashem to drop? The Torah tells us after the Splitting of the Red Sea that the Bnei Yisrael’s faith in both Hashem and Moshe as his messenger was complete. But all that changed with the episode of the Spies. At that moment, their level of faith declined to new lows, making it necessary for Moshe to perform a miracle in front of them; a miracle which ended up costing him his entrance into Eretz Yisrael. So in reality, the sin of the Spies did indeed cause Moshe to not be able to enter the Land. Perhaps this is also why he slips it in between talking about Calev and Yehoshua; really, Moshe was supposed to be the third person from that generation to enter Eretz Yisrael together with Calev and Yehoshua, however, due to the sin, he was unable to.
This week’s parshah is always read the week before Tisha B’Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both Batei Mikdash. Chazal teach us that the Spies returned with their evil report on Tisha B’Av as well, and when the nation cried that night over the fact that they were inheriting such a “terrible” country, Hashem decreed that we would be given a real reason to cry on this day. We must work this week on repairing the damage done and work towards rebuilding the Beis Hamikdash.
However, as with all tragedies, Hashem does it all for our good. Chazal also tell us that a Beis Hamikdash built by Moshe could not have been destroyed. If Moshe had ended up building the Beis Hamikdash, instead of punishing us for our sins with the destruction of a building (albeit a holy one), we would have been destroyed instead. So as we mourn this week and pray for better times, remember that even in the darkness of destruction, the light of redemption is right around the corner.
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