Hashem spoke to Moshe on that very day, saying. Ascend to this mount of Abarim, Mount Nevo, which is in the land of Moab, which is before Yericho and see the Land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel as an inheritance.
These pesukim (verses) are written towards the end of the long discussion between Moshe and God concerning allowing him to enter western Eretz Yisrael. Chazal (Our Sages) taught [Midrash Devarim Rabba 11:6] that Moshe prayed five hundred and fifteen prayers that he be allowed to cross the Jordan. All of Moshe’s prayers were answered by God’s refusal, “Since you did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel” [Bamidbar 20:12]. Instead, God promised Moshe that he will see the Land from the outside, from the vantage point of Mount Nebo, as we read in our pesukim.
The question which begs asking is: can viewing the Land from without relieve Moshe’s desire to enter her? Apparently, viewing the Land in this manner would increase Moshe’s pain at not being able to enter her. It would seem that God’s offer to Moshe would increase his suffering over being prevented from entering the Land of the Shechina!
The Power of Spiritual Vision
In order to understand the nature of the vision which Moshe was granted, we must first understand the power and essence of the vision of ẓadikim in general. This will allow us to understand that which was achieved by Moshe’s vision of the Land as well as the timing close to his death and on the verge of Am Yisrael’s entry into the Land.
The holy Or HaChayim writes in his commentary on Parashat Bo [Sh’mot 11:5]: “The awesome ẓadikim, our ancient ones, upon looking at an evil person, were able, with their vision, through the prism of wisdom, to sift out the living force, and draw out the aspect of good. The soul of the ẓadik acts as a magnet, drawing out the good through his vision.”
Or HaChayim conveys a basic concept: the vision of ẓadikim stands in contrast to that of ordinary people. An ordinary person merely scans and perceives that which is revealed to him, with no ability to interact or influence that which is perceived, while a ẓadik looking at reality not only perceives it with his eyes, but is able to act upon that reality and influence it through his visual activity, without the need for additional actions.
The ẓadik‘s vision expands the influence of his holy soul and thereby draws in all the fragments of vitality which it “scans” and allows them to connect with the well-spring of life which flows in the soul of the ẓadik.
In his work Asufat Ma’archot, Rabbi Chayyim Ya’akov Goldvicht, the founding Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Kerem b’Yavne, explained an additional level of the power of the ẓadik‘s vision, based upon the comments of Or HaChayyim.
In contrast to what was stated above, that when the sparks of life of an evil person come into contact with the soul of a ẓadik, they tend to be detached and to be drawn to the ẓadik‘s soul, the opposite is true for worthy people. An upright and worthy person, who attempts to walk in the ways of God and who acts to fill his soul with Divine inspiration, has a vigorous and durable life force within himself. The spark of life within such a person is connected to the source of true life, and necessarily, exposure to the vital soul of a ẓadik will strengthen a person’s own vitality. The contact with the greater life force empowers and reinforces one’s own life force, similar to a small flame which comes into contact with a torch.
This concept, of the ẓadik‘s ability to influence others through his spiritual traits, is supported and expanded by Rabbi Kook’s comment in his book Orot HaKodesh: “Those of upright hearts, the lofty ẓadikim, are the conduits for the profusion of life in the entire universe … the influence of good descends upon them and through them to the world.”
Rav Kook zt”l explains that the ẓadik, by virtue of his purity and sanctity, achieves a high level of closeness to God, and from this lofty perch, is able to achieve unique spiritual abundance, which is limited to the few, who like him, refined and prepared themselves for this level. This spiritual advantage benefits not only the ẓadik himself, but all those around him. This spiritual superiority endows the ẓadik with the ability to influence his surroundings in a much more significant manner than ordinary people. A ẓadik of this sort is comparable to one who stands on the peak of a high mountain, commanding everything below. This high level allows the ẓadik to be the spiritual conduit which brings vitality and light to the entire world. Whoever is closer to the conduit, namely the ẓadik himself, absorbs more of the abundance which flows through the conduit.
Thus, we learn that proximity to a ẓadik endows one with blessings, light and vitality. This connection can be expressed through spiritual as well as physical proximity between the ẓadik and the one he influences. When a ẓadik focuses his vision on something, a connection is created between the object and the ẓadik, which necessarily increases the blessed influence of the ẓadik on the object of his vision.
Miraculous Administration and natural Administration
Moshe’s ascent of Mount Nebo to see Eretz Yisrael occurred at a time of transition between two periods, “the generation of the wilderness” and the “generation which entered the Land.”
The administration of the generation of the wilderness was typified by overt miracles; their food was provided by manna which descended from heaven, their water by the Well of Miriam, and surrounding them and above them were the Clouds of Glory, which protected them from all external harm. Under such administration, with all physical needs provided, Israel had no need to engage in material activities, and indeed, the nation’s focus was Torah study and achieving spiritual virtues. The leader of this generation was Moshe, “the man of God” [Devarim 33:1]. Under Moshe’s leadership and through it, Israel merited all the miracles mentioned above. As the greatest of prophets and one whose own body superseded the bounds of nature when he spent forty days on Mount Sinai without eating or drinking, Moshe was truly suited to being the conduit for all the miracles which allowed Israel in the wilderness to transcend the limits of nature.
This was appropriate for the generation of the wilderness. When Israel was still on the road to the Promised Land, there was no purpose to be served by their engaging in mundane activities, and therefore their administration was on a level which precluded the need for such activities and focused on matters of the spirit and of sanctity.
However, upon entering the Land, the situation changed. Am Yisrael was now tasked with capturing the Land, dividing it among the tribes, building planting and dealing with the remaining aspects of her physical development. This finds expression in the verse at the beginning of Parashat Kedoshim [Vayikra 19:23]: “When you come to the Land and plant fruit trees…” Upon entering the Land, Israel entered a new reality, in which they were required to plant trees and work their fields, requirements which they had not previously experienced.
In tandem with the requirement to build and develop the Land, the ongoing miracles which accompanied the Israelites throughout their years of wandering in the wilderness ended. Manna ceased descending from heaven, the well no longer provided water and the Clouds of Glory disappeared. In this new reality, the Israelites were required to work in order to support themselves. The national administration was not based upon overt miracles, instead Am Yisrael entered the period of natural administration. Am Yisrael must toil in material matters, with Heaven helping them in hidden ways, without overt Divine intervention. The nation would still receive God’s blessings, but now though its own efforts. Military victories will be miraculous, but only after Am Yisrael battled in natural ways and fought as all nations do.
The spiritual leader of this generation was Yehoshua, Moshe’s disciple. Chazal taught that “The countenance of Moshe was like that of the sun; the countenance of Yehoshua was like that of the moon” [Bava Batra 75a]. Moshe is compared to the sun, a celestial body whose essence is light and heat, and which influence all other aspects of creation. In contrast, Yehoshua is comparable to the moon, which reflects the sun’s light to earth. Yehoshua is considered a middleman, a mediator between the material and the spiritual. It is this type of leadership which is suited for guiding Israel in the situation of natural reality.
Administration which Draws from its Predecessor
In practice, Am Yisrael’s leadership upon entering the Land was in the hands of Yehoshua, but this leadership was rooted in that of Moshe. The ability to function under natural conditions, to deal with material matters and yet raise them to their lofty spiritual purpose rests upon the spiritual – miraculous administration. Sublime adherence to Godliness and absolute devotion to serving God are the factors which enable the manifestation of sanctity within mundane activities. Without the connection to the sublime level of administration based on overt miracles, in which the Divine light is seen in its clarity and without filters, there is the danger of being sucked into and languishing in materialism. It is the strong connection between the two forms of administration which allows Israel to deal with mundane matters with the confidence that the nation will not abandon its goal of sanctifying the material.
The point of contact between the two forms of administration was Moshe’s ascent to see the Land. Moshe’s elevated sanctity and the immense vitality which flowed from his souls connected to the wellsprings of life in Eretz Yisrael, influencing and elevating them to new heights. The meeting between the conduit of life which was Moshe’s soul and the life forces of the soil of Eretz Yisrael awakened and fanned the latter, elevating them to a level at which the Israelites could reveal them and through them elevate all aspects of the material reality of the Land by working and building the Land.
Moshe’s vision infused life force and spiritual charge into the material aspects of the Land, making the soil, the air and all facets of its existence into vessels for achieving sanctity through the Israelites’ practical work and toil.
While Moshe’s vision of the Land was not an alternate to actually entering her, it did pave the way for Israel’s settlement within her and facilitated the nation’s ability to realize its destiny within her. Moshe himself was unable to enter the Land, but his vision of her conveyed an aspect of his continued leadership even after his death, which helped drive the nation’s full connection to the sanctity of the Land.
Significance for Us
The unique quality which Moshe imprinted on Eretz Yisrael when he saw her from atop Mount Nebo provided us with the spiritual vessel known as “sanctifying the material,” through which we can, and indeed are commanded to engage in the physical development of the Land, elevating the material reality to a level of sanctity. What can be achieved outside the Land only through Torah study, prayer and other spiritual endeavors, can be achieved in Eretz Yisrael through physical work as well. It is significant that Chatam Sofer wrote that “In Eretz Yisrael, working the soil itself is a mitzva – in fulfillment of settling the Land and to bring forth her holy fruit; and it is possible that other forms of labor which contribute to settlement are included within this mitzva.”
When we are engaged in ostensibly minor activities which affect our daily lives, we must recognize that for us, the children of Eretz Yisrael, everything that contributes to establishing and improving our material lives constitutes spiritual work. We must pay attention to the fact that much of our time is spent in holy work and the more we approach this in seriousness and with responsibility, the greater the perfection of the work we do, and the greater the extent to which we allow the material things to achieve their spiritual completion.