“Behold the Beauty of the Land”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Va’etchanan, opens with Moses recalling his heartfelt plea to the Al-mighty, and its rejection, that he be allowed to enter the Promised Land.

In Deuteronomy 3:25, Moses reiterates the words of his supplication: “Eh’eh’brah nah v’ehr’eh eht ha’ah’retz ha’tovah ah’sher b’ay’ver ha’Yar’dayn, ha’har ha’tov ha’zeh, v’hahl’vah’nohn,” Please, allow me now to cross and see the good land, that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.

Rabbi Meyuchas explains that in the non-homiletic, literal sense, the words “good mountain” refer to a mountain range that is located at the center of Israel, across from the part of the Jordan where Moses stood at the time. “Lebanon” here means the country’s northern mountains.

However, Rashi explains that the words “good mountain,” refer to the city of Jerusalem, which is located in a mountainous region of Judea. The Gur Arye explains further that Jerusalem is called a mountain, because the city’s elevated spiritual status is as clear as the physical elevation of a mountain.

Rashi further asserts that the words “the Lebanon,” referred to in the verse, allude to the Beit Hamikdash–the Holy Temple. This interpretation is based on the fact that the Hebrew word “Levanon” is derived from the word “Lavan,” white. The Temple, of course, serves to whiten, or atone for, Israel’s sins.

The Ha’amek Davar explains that the words “good land” refer to the Torah. The Ha’amek Davar notes that, since the Torah has a special ability to take root in Israel, the main purpose of Moses’ petition and prayer was to strengthen the people’s commitment to Torah learning in the land of Israel. Similarly, a “good mountain,” according to the Ha’amek Davar, refers to Jerusalem, the city that is especially receptive to the intense study of Torah. “Lebanon” is the Temple, which has the special ability to direct truth to the place that G-d chooses.

Those who are sensitive to the words of the Hebrew text and the rapt fervor conveyed in Moses’s words, cannot help but appreciate the depths and intensity of his plea. He begs, beseeches and pleads with G-d to allow him to see the land, a land that, although he has never seen in his life, he is, nevertheless, deeply in love with.

“Please let me pass through, to see the good land,” cries Moses, ironically referring to the exact same land that the scouts had seen, but about which they could not bring themselves to report a single good word. As opposed to the scouts, Moses only sees the “good land,” and all the good in the land.

Rabbi Menachem HaKohen notes that Moses’ vision was far larger than subsequent reality. Moses’ passion for the land allowed him to survey with the gaze of his eyes, more than Joshua or his successors who would actually reach the land and dwell in it.

Rabbi J.H. Hertz writes that all of Hebrew scripture is filled with a deep love for the mountains and mountain scenery. Mountains are so highly regarded in Jewish tradition that the rabbis even introduced a special blessing to be recited upon beholding lofty mountains.

The prophet Isaiah predicts that when redemption comes in the end of days nature itself will respond enthusiastically to its arrival. Isaiah 55:12 states, “Kee v’simcha tay’tzay’oo, oov’shalom too’vah’loon,” [At the time of redemption], you will go out in gladness, and in peace shall you arrive. The mountains and the hills will break out in glad song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Those who are familiar with contemporary Israel know that there is a passionate and powerful, ethereal, love that native Israelis feel for their land. They take special pride in touring the land, and walking the land–-crossing the wadis and the streams, the forests and the wilderness. The landscape of Israel is so improbably diverse, that tourists, within a few kilometers, can visit a variety of “countries.” The lowest spot on the world’s surface is found in Israel, at the Dead Sea. The majestic mountains of Judea, the famed River Jordan and the legendary Kineret Lake, the northern Galilee and the Mediterranean, are all to be found in this unique geographical environment.

And yet, despite all the wondrous endowments of the Land of Israel, for some reason, the scouts saw only “a land that devours its inhabitants” (Numbers 13:32). How sad that the people’s representatives could not appreciate the land’s supernal beauty.

Referring to the idols, the Psalmist says, “A mouth they have but speak not, eyes they have but see not. Ears they have but hear not…Hands they have, but feel not” (115:5-7). So it is with those who are inured to the special qualities of the Promised Land. That is why, Moses, who saw the land only from the distant mountains, was able to see more beauty than the ten scouts, who physically traversed the land.

When the eye of the beholder is willfully blind, there is no way to envision or appreciate beauty.

This is the challenge of contemporary times as well, to not only see beauty in the land, but to see the beauty in the values of the people and the values of the Torah that the people have imbibed. If we ever hope to make a difference in the world, it is this that we must acknowledge.

The call of the hour, especially in the week that Tisha b’av is observed, is to see this beauty, embrace it, make it part of our innermost selves, and share it with the world.

May you be blessed.

The Shabbat after Tisha b’av is traditionally known as Shabbat Nachamu, in deference to the first of a series of seven Haftarot (prophetic messages) of consolation, drawn from the book of Isaiah, and read between Tisha ba’av and Rosh Hashana.“Nachamu, nachamu amee,” be comforted My nation, are the opening words of Isaiah 40.

Please note: This year, the joyous festival of Tu b’Av, the fifteenth of Av, is celebrated on Sunday night and Monday, July 21st and 22nd, 2013. Happy Tu b’Av (for more information, please click here)