As we near the end of the first five books of the Torah, we read about the death of our great leader and teacher, Moshe Rabbeinu.
The midrash Sifrei relates that when the Jews heard about G-d’s directive to Moses, “Go up this Mount Avarim ... And die on the mountain upon which you are climbing …”, they tried to stop the inevitable.
They reasoned, “if we do not let Moses climb up Mount Avarim, he will not die.”
They resolved to block his path up the mountain. And so began a showdown between the Jewish people and G-d.
This story is hinted in the Torah in the words, “And the Lord spoke to Moses – – at the very height of that day.” (Deuteronomy 32:48)
G-d is telling them, despite your objections, this is My plan and this is what will happen, “at the very height of that day,” visible to all.
Now, this takes place after 40 years in the desert. The rebellious generation that caused so much trouble has passed away and the protagonists are those that have been trained by Moses to be devoted servants of G-d.
What were they thinking? How did they have the audacity to obstruct a directive from G-d himself?
One explanation is that Moses, their beloved leader, was given a terrible decree from heaven. And they noticed this was a specific directive him, “And the Lord spoke to Moses. ... Go up…”
They knew how badly he wanted to go into the promised land, and that G-d forbade him.
They were ready to do everything in their power, including prayer and intervention to get G-d to reconsider.
Alas, G-d had other plans.
It seems He wanted the people to be on their own, out of their comfort zones, settling the land of Israel and bringing G-dliness there – without Moses’ towering presence. They would have to stay strong together and draw on deeper reserves of faith.
Perhaps that’s why these are the final words of the parshah we read in the Torah each year before the holiday of Sukkot.
Sukkot is about going out of the comfort of our home and finding a trust in G-d that He will take care of us even as we are exposed to the elements.
We also bind together – as one, thelulav, etrog, myrtle and willow, representing all different types of people, reminding us that we must stick together in our mission.
These beautiful mitzvot are an incredible way to start the new year with a sense of unity and faith that can stay with us all year.
Rabbi Mendy Alevsky directs with wife, Sara, the Chabad House at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, serving the Jewish campus community and University Circle.