Moses places two entreaties before God at the end of his life concerning the leadership of the Jewish people in Israel. One is here when he asks to be allowed “to cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan River,” presumably to continue to lead the Israelites. This entreaty is not made directly but rather implied in God’s response, that Moses must name Joshua as his successor (Deut. 3:28).
The second request came in Pineĥas and is not stated by Moses directly. It is inferred by the Midrash, as Moses asks God to appoint his successor right after the Bible informs us that the daughters of Tzelafĥad can inherit their father (Num. 27:11).
Both requests are denied. The first is denied because his sons did not have the necessary Torah qualifications to be religious leaders. Moses likely realized their lack of worthiness and therefore does not specifically make this request aloud. The Bible informs us of his heart’s desire by placing his request for replacement after the inheritance of the daughters of Tzelafĥad.
Moses apparently is more comfortable making the second request. After all of his sacrifices and difficulties with the Israelites, does he not deserve to enter the Land of Israel and begin this new era of Jewish history with himself as their leader?
But again, his request is denied.
Moses was into the “heavy talk:” communication with God. He did not have the ability to establish personal ties. He did not even have the patience to lovingly bring along his children and make them his deputies. He was a God-person, not a people person or even a family person.
Moses ultimately blames himself. Since he spent all his time communicating with God, he sacrificed his ability to move his generation to accept God’s command to enter the Promised Land.
A leader must join in the destiny of his people. If they could not enter the land, even if it was because of their own backsliding, he may not enter the land because he did not succeed in inspiring them sufficiently well.
These two requests were denied because the very source of Moses’ greatness, his lofty spirit and closeness to God, was what prevented him from getting down to the level of his people to lift them up. Moses succeeded like no one else before or after him in communicating God’s word for future generations, but he did not do as well with his own generation.
Perhaps Moses’ requests were denied to teach us that no mortal leaves this world without at least half of his desires remaining unfulfilled. Perhaps he was refused to teach us that no matter how worthy our prayer, sometimes the Almighty answers “No” and we must accept a negative answer.
Founder, Chancellor Emeritus and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin’s contributions to Israel and world Jewry over the course of the past five decades have been instrumental in shaping today’s Modern Orthodox society.