In this parsha we learn about Moshe’s mistake and the tragic evens that followed. Moshe was told he would have to die in the wilderness and would not be able to enter the Land of Israel. What exactly was Moshe’s error, what events led to it, why was he punished so harshly and what was accomplished by him dying in the desert?




As we discussed before, in general we can never understand to a full extent the mistakes and sins of the early generations. This is especially true regarding the error Moshe and Aharon made. As usual, the Torah uses a simple language to discuss very lofty concepts, while the exact nature of Moshe’s mistake remains purposefully hidden by the Torah. However, since Hashem did give us the Torah we are permitted to talk about what happened at least on the simplest level of understanding.


Many interpretations exist regarding the exact nature of the mistake Moshe made[1], but it is certainly true that he was punished so harshly only because of the Divine Rule of being very strict with the righteous. We can only begin to grasp what happened when we view the episode of this parsha in the context of what happened until now. The GR”A writes[2] that throughout his life Moshe made four mistakes. The first one that in a way led to all others was Moshe’s acceptance of the erev rav[3]. These people, numbering millions[4] and coming from the best of Egyptians, who witnessed together with the Jewish people Hashem’s great miracles, seemed to be ready to convert and join our nation. Moshe did not want to reject them, and since then Hashem held him responsible for everything they did.


As we previously mentioned the Golden Calf was primarily an initiative of the erev rav.  However, as it usually happens some of the Jewish people got influenced as well[5]. Even though our nation achieved forgiveness after the episode of the Golden Calf, we never regained our previous lofty spiritual level. The second mistake Moshe made was in sending the spies to the Land of Israel. We already discussed that the mistake the spies made was not at all obvious, and that the sin of the spies was partially caused by the weakening of our nation after the episode of the Golden Calf[6]. The true purpose of the spies was to bring the Divine Presence into the Holy Land and they did not accomplish this goal[7].


The mistake Moshe made was by not telling the spies the words he would later say to the next generation about to enter the Land of Israel. The various verses in the book of Devarim should have been told before sending the spies, but Moshe thought that saying all this would make the spies biased in the eyes of people. Moshe kept quiet before sending the spies, hoping the people would be more likely to believe their report, but since the spies failed, the damage was even greater.


According to the GR"A, by the time the fate of the generation was sealed to die in the wilderness, Moshe would also not be able to enter the Holy Land[8]. Moshe had to stay with the generation of his people, the people that were from his spiritual root[9]. However, there was still a possibility to bring a great rectification when speaking to the rock[10]. As usual, the actions of Moshe were supposed to make both physical and spiritual changes. The physical water was supposed to come out and so too the spiritual "water" – the hidden aspects of Torah would come freely. The Kabalistic secrets would then be as open as the open Torah, and there would be no need to hide them. When Moshe failed[11] in accomplishing the needed rectification, the secrets of Torah had to be hidden[12].


Most of the Agados in the Talmud are hinting to Kabalistic ideas, but are written in this childish manner and become objects of scorn in the mouths of jesters in every generation. This brings tremendous suffering to Moshe and to Moshiach. About this Yeshiyahu was saying (53:5) "He is profaned because of our sins". The Chochmas Haemes, the true Torah of Moshe, is being hidden and despised while the Torah sages are detested and made fun of by the “leaders” coming from the erev rav[13]. We are promised that in the future the secrets of Torah will be revealed, but this will happen only in the end of days. And we will wait every day to see the fulfillment of the verse (Yeshiyahu 11:9): "The Earth will be full of knowledge of Hashem, as water covers the sea bed".



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[1] See for example Abarbanel (Bemidbar, 20) who brings 10 interpretations and concludes that Moshe’s mistake for which he was punished actually happened before this episode, see below. See also Meam Loez.


[2] See Aderes Eliyahu, Devarim 3:26.


[3] We already mentioned this briefly in our commentary to parshas Vayakhel and Tzav.


[4] See Mechilta, Bo, 14.


[5] See our word in parshas Tzav.


[6] Indeed the dates of the two sins: the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av formed the well known period of the "three weeks" - the saddest time in our calendar.

[7] This explains why Yehushua would also send spies right before entering the Land of Israel. This may seem surprising, after all the previous decision to send the spies turned out to be a mistake. In truth however, the sending of the spies was necessary. In fact, wherever our nation went, the path was supposed to be prepared by the best of us. Yosef prepared our establishment in Egypt. Later Yakov would send Yehuda before everyone else to establish the first Yeshiva there. The Babylonians first exiled the Rabbis who established true Torah communities in Babel. Only then was the rest of the nation exiled. (Unfortunately American exile did not start with Rabbis and this is why it took so much longer for Torah communities to be built here).


[8] Abarbanel also concludes that it's the sin of the spies that was the cause of Moshe's punishment.


[9] Indeed the benefit of Moshe being buried outside the Land of Israel affects all of the Jewish people in exile (see Zohar 3:280a, see also Divrey Yoel, Chukas, page 101).


[10] See GR”A in Aderes Eliyahu (Bemidbar 20:12).


[11] This was his third error. The fourth mistake of Moshe was not stopping the assimilation at Shitim. Instead Pinchas did it and received an eternal covenant and never died (as it is known – Pinchas is Eliyahu, we will discuss this further in parshas Pinchas).


[12] See the GR”A on Tikuney Zohar, end of 16th Tikun, starting with words Beshegam; 21st Tikun, 52b; 69th Tikun 104b, Tikuney Zohar Chadash, 75a; Yahel Ohr to Zohar 2:254b.


[13] An additional difficulty is that the “leaders” whose spiritual root comes from erev rav are not only represented by clearly anti-religious people, but at times may include even “rabbis”. At first it may be difficult to distinguish between a true “Rabbi” and a person who just pretends to be one, thus desecrating the Divine Name by his behavior and making it so much more complicated for all religious Jews.