In Parshas Ha’azinu, we see Moshe making his final preparations for after his death. This all leads up to the end of the parsha when Hashem tells Moshe to climb Mount Nevo where he will die. Before he died, however, he would give his final address to the nation and take his only living look over Eretz Yisrael.
Rashi points out that while telling Moshe to climb the mountain, the pasuk uses an interesting phrasing. “וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־משֶׁ֔ה בְּעֶ֛צֶם הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֖ה לֵאמֹֽר” “And Hashem spoke to Moshe on that very day, saying” (Devarim 32:48). Rashi explains that this phrase, “בְּעֶ֛צֶם הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֖ה”, is used as a response from Hashem against challengers. The first time it’s used in the Torah is in the times of Noach. The people at the time declared that they would not allow Noach under any circumstances to enter the Ark. Hashem declared in response that He would bring Noach onto the Ark “בְּעֶ֛צֶם הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֖ה”, right in the middle of the day, showing that there was nothing they could do to stop it. The second time it’s used is by Yetzias Mitzrayim. The Egyptians said they wouldn’t let the Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt no matter what happened. Hashem responded that He would bring them out “בְּעֶ֛צֶם הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֖ה” to show the Egyptians they had no chance of stopping anything He wanted to happen.
Continues Rashi, the same thing happened over here. The Bnei Yisrael declared that they were not going to allow Moshe to die. So Hashem responded in His typical manner to show them that there was nothing they could do about it. But this doesn’t make much sense. Were Bnei Yisrael actually challenging Hashem and saying that they wouldn’t allow Moshe to die? What a ridiculous notion! It’s one thing for non-believers to challenge Hashem, but for the Jewish People on the cusp of entering Eretz Yisrael, that’s absurd!
Rav Chaim Shmulevitz in his sefer, Sichos Mussar, discusses this question. He brings several examples from people found in the Torah, including from Moshe himself, that show that the more effort a person puts into his actions, the more Hashem will help him accomplish his goals. And if a person is determined and puts in everything he has, then Hashem will reciprocate and give him everything He has as well. It follows that nothing is beyond a person’s capacity, because if Hashem will contribute His efforts then nothing is out of the question, even the ability to perform miracles.
When Rashi says Bnei Yisrael weren’t going to let Moshe die, he doesn’t mean that they were going to block the mountain so that he shouldn’t climb it, he means that they weren’t going to let him die. They would use their collective powers to accomplish a miracle; they would learn Torah and daven as a merit for Moshe to allow him to continue living. (We find a similar idea in the gemarah [Kesubos 104a], when the students of Rabi Yehuda HaNasi continued praying as a merit for him, he was unable to die, until a maid of his provided a distraction which caused the students to stop for a second, causing the merit to cease and he died.)
As we explained, a person’s efforts are reciprocated by Hashem to the point where they can accomplish anything, even miracles. When a person owes a strong debt of kindness (Hakaras Hatov) to someone, Chazal teach us that this debt is so strong their efforts can actually prevent the person’s death! (This is how Elisha and Eliyahu were able to bring back to life the children of people they felt beholden to; their debt was so strong they could control the lives of their benefactors!) The Bnei Yisrael felt that after everything Moshe had done for them, they owed it to him to allow him to live as long as possible, maybe even forever! So when the pasuk says that Hashem told Moshe to climb “בְּעֶ֛צֶם הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֖ה”, He was actually sort of apologizing to Bnei Yisrael. Even though in a typical situation, like the story of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, these actions would save Moshe, Hashem changed the workings of the world and allowed Moshe to die anyway.
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