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The entire book of Bamidbar is a litany of bad behavior, poor choices and a lack of faith that dooms that generation – a great generation that left Egypt triumphantly and miraculously – to death in the desert of Sinai. But perhaps the most tragic event on a human and personal level is contained in this week's Torah reading when the fate of Moshe is sealed.

He will not be allowed to enter the Land of Israel. The Torah itself ascribes this punishment to the fact that Moshe smote the rock to bring forth water for the people instead of speaking to the rock. Though this reason is emphasized a number of times in the Torah, the great thinkers and commentators of the Jewish people over the ages have searched for a deeper understanding of the cause that led to Moshe’s ultimate fate.
Maimonides saw it in terms of a cumulative effect of incidents – albeit individually, perhaps not of major consequence – where Moshe was guilty of anger and of not fulfilling God's will in exactitude. Other thinkers and commentators placed blame not so much on Moshe himself but rather on the circumstances of his leadership and relationship to that generation of Jews, those that now would have to enter the Land of Israel, conquer and settle it.
For various reasons, among them the awe and reverence that this new generation would grant to Moshe would border on the cult of personality, if not even idolatry. He would no longer be treated as a human being, but would be elevated to the status of a deity.  If nothing else Judaism is certainly an iconoclastic faith where human beings, no matter how great and holy they may be, remain human beings.
However we view what the ultimate cause of Moshe’s fate was – some even attributing it to his being prone to anger – the pathos of the situation is inescapable, even to us removed from the event by many millennia. Reaching and living in the Promised Land was the goal that he had striven for his entire lifetime. That it was denied to him on the threshold of the entry of the Jewish people into their promised homeland, makes the event doubly sad and emotionally disturbing.
We all sympathize with our great leader and teacher but there is a great lesson of faith taught to us by the narrative of this incident. Human beings always attempt to ascribe simple and uncomplicated motives to human behavior, and even have the arrogance to do so regarding God as well. Upon reflection we can all recognize that there are many different factors and motives, causes and effects, which influence our choices in life and our behavior.
But we are always hard-pressed to pull all the strings together and truly analyze our motives. It is only our Creator, Who, so to speak, sees the whole picture, knows all of the inner workings of the human psyche and soul and is able to judge correctly all of the issues involved in human behavior. This may be the ultimate reason why we are commanded to accept God's judgment in all matters, even when it is beyond our rational understanding.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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