While studying in Israel many years ago, I hitched a ride in Jerusalem with two friendly fellows who offered to drive me to where I needed to go. It was a relatively short distance, yet a lively discussion ensued and within moments they knew my life story. As they asked about my studies, I excitedly began to share a Talmudic dictum I had just learned. I was totally surprised when they joined in to finish off the saying: “Even if a sharp sword is on one’s neck, one should not stop seeking mercy!” Even as a young man I recognized the powerful belief expressed in these words, that one’s fate is never sealed and that we have the power to change our fate. In Parshat Va’etchanan, Moshe Rabbeinu prays to G-d attempting to change his fate, despite being told numerous times he is not going to enter the land of Israel. Moshe did not believe anyone’s fate was sealed, he knew there was always hope and possibility. And yet, G-d does not relent and Moshe does enter the land of Israel.
If we can alter our fate as the Talmud suggests, how is it that Moshe, the grandmaster of prayer, could not change his own? Moshe performed miracles in Egypt, split the sea, bested the angels in a heavenly debate and delivered the Torah to mankind, yet he could not change his own fate? He had changed the fate of the Jewish people numerous times! When G-d said He would annihilate the Children of Israel, it was Moshe who altered our nation’s fate. That Moshe did not change his own fate makes us question his spiritual abilities and undermines the axiom that one’s fate is never sealed. What kind of a grandmaster of prayer cannot change his own fate?
Let us appreciate Moshe in the context of his siblings.
A Midrash quoted by Rashi famously relates that Miriam, Moshe’s sister, stood up to her father when he instructed all of the Jewish men in Egypt to separate from their wives to avert Pharaoh’s decree of casting Jewish male infants into the Nile. By divorcing their wives, no children would be born and Pharaoh’s decree would be obviated. Miriam approaches her father and indignantly claims he has gone farther than Pharaoh. Pharaoh only decreed against males while Amram had acted against both males and females. As a result of Miriam’s intervention, Amram and Yocheved remarry and Moshe is born.
Years later, when Moshe separates from his wife Tziporah, the Torah tells us that Miriam was distressed and spoke about her. The Midrash elaborates that Miriam questioned Moshe’s separation harshly; both she and Aharon were prophets, yet they remained with their spouses. With these two stories Rabbi Dovid Yosef Klein develops the theme that Miriam is the healer of separation between a man and his wife.
Aharon is famously known as the lover and pursuer of peace. We well know the midrashic tale of two friends who had a disagreement and were visited by Aharon. He would tell each one how heartbroken the other was over their spat. The two parties would then meet and exchange hugs of friendship and ask forgiveness from one another. The Midrash accentuates the idea that Aharon is the healer of separation between man and man.
Despite all G-d had done for us, we still made Him distraught, angered and aggrieved by turning to alien gods and walking in sinful and unappreciative ways. It was Moshe who, in the words of the Midrash, “stands in the void.” He cleaned us up, made us repent and fell before G-d in prayer for 40 days and 40 nights. It is Moshe who still, even after his death, helps to protect us from harm. It is Moshe who heals the separation between G-d and the children of Israel – between man and G-d.