Torah | Entering the land where Moshe could not tread


Numbers 19:1–22:1
Maftir (Rosh Hodesh): Numbers 28:9–15
Isaiah 66:1-24


While I knew that this moment would come someday, I cannot say that I have looked forward to it. I have been waiting for 20 years (one could say 2,000 years) for the life that will follow, but not for this particular instant.

You see, it is time for me to say farewell. After 13 years in the Bay Area and nearly four decades in the United States, I am moving home to Israel this summer, to a home that has never been my home. I love my Oakland shul-family and my Bay Area life, and in any conventional sense Israel is a foreign country. I was born and raised an American, to American parents. I went to school here, married here and raised my family here. This move doesn’t stem from a desire to leave, but rather from a soul yearning to be there. To ascend on aliyah. I may not be Israeli, but I am one of the children of Israel.

My heart has long been broken for Moshe in this week’s Torah portion. He is told, “You will not lead this people into the land that I have given them” (20:12). He pleads with HaShem, but he is rebuffed and can only peer into the land from a mountaintop.

But what happened? The narrative isn’t specific. Rashi surmises that Moshe didn’t follow directions properly and hit the rock from which water flowed instead of speaking to it. Rambam notes (20:10) that Moshe’s anger was his undoing.

Another explanation (Midrash Rabbah Devarim 2:8) caught my eye. Moshe, carrying Joseph’s bones through the desert in order to bury them in Israel, tries to persuade HaShem to let him into Israel. “Master of the Universe, the bones of Joseph are entering the land. Am I not to enter the land?” HaShem responds, “He who acknowledged his native land is to be buried in that land, but he who did not acknowledge his native land does not merit to be buried in his land.”

The Midrash then points out the verses in the Torah in which Joseph identified himself publicly as a Jew (Genesis 39:14 and 40:15). In contrast, Moshe allowed himself to be identified as an Egyptian (Exodus 2:19).

But why does that prevent him from entering the land? Perhaps because as Jews we connect not only horizontally in the present with our people across the world, but also vertically back through the millennia.

An integral part of being a Jew is identifying with our history. We spent thousands of years trying to build a model society in Israel, at the crossroads of three continents. Moshe connected to the Jewish present, but he had forgotten to reach back into the past to the roots of his identity.

Recently, I looked in the mirror and asked myself, “Am I crazy? My Beth Jacob and Bay Area rabbi life-journey has been amazing. I’ve had incredible opportunities to learn and teach and share, a phenomenal education and environment for my children, and the natural beauty doesn’t hurt, either. What in the world am I doing?”

But it didn’t take long to answer: The ultimate human purpose is to live a meaningful life. Life here has indeed been deeply meaningful, and has readied me to immerse myself and my family once and for all into the Jewish past, present and future. After nearly 20 centuries, I could become the last immigrant in my family tree. I can live out my most cherished values in a place where I experience a heightened sense of HaShem’s presence. Moshe was denied this dream, but it has never been easier than it is in 2014. It’s time.

Thank you all for years of reading and allowing me to share. I will be teaching Torah in the Old City of Jerusalem (with a beautiful view of the Western Wall) and would love to run into you there one day.

Rabbi Judah Dardik has been the spiritual leader at Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland for 13 years. He will make aliyah with his wife and children on June 30.

Rabbi Judah Dardik