In 1903, Theodor Herzl, the father of the modern Zionist movement, asked his family to promise him that when the Jewish people returned to their ancestral homeland, he wished to have his bones buried there. A year later – 1904 – he died and was buried in Vienna. In the summer of 1945, when the State of Israel was still in its infancy, a parade was held as his bones were exhumed from Vienna and reinterred atop what has become known as Har Herzl, a national cemetery where past Prime Ministers, Presidents, military leaders, and historical figures have been laid to rest. Har Herzl overlooks the city of Jerusalem. Atop this cemetery, you can see the ancient city and the modern buildings. You can see the busy and bustling streets brought to life. Atop this mountain, you can see Herzl’s dream fulfilled.
In the middle of Parashat Pinchas, God tells Moses:
Ascend the Mountain of Avarim and lout out unto the land that I am to give to the Children of Israel. And when you see this land, you too will be gathered among your people, just as your brother Aaron was gathered (Num. 27:12-13).
This is God’s way of saying, go up to the mountain top, see the Promised Land, but then you will not come down. We know in Parashat V’Zot HaBracha, the final portion of the Torah, that Moses ascends Har Nevo, Mount Nebo, and dies there, seemingly fulfilling exactly what God tells him here.
Our commentators, debate if this is the same moment as at the end of Deuteronomy when he ascends Har Nevo and dies. Tiferet Tzion suggests that Moses ascends the Mountain twice. The second time is to die there, but the first time, is to bestow a blessing on the land – a material blessing. When he dies, he bestows a spiritual blessing.
We already learned in Parashat Chukkat that Moses would not be entering the Promised Land.
But ascending this mountain isn’t a punishment. It isn’t a reminder of what Moses will not experience. It is quite the reward. Moses knows he is not the person to welcome the Israelites into the Promised Land. The parasha continues with him looking for his successor. And yet, he gets a sneak peak of the future. He gets to see the future that he himself will not get to experience, but that he has spent his entire career as leader working towards. This is exactly what happened when Theodor Herzl was reinterred overlooking the city and the land that fought for the Jewish people to return to.
Imagine if we get a glimpse at the future for our descendants, what this world will be like for them, long after we have left this world. What would we do differently if we knew when and where we were to leave this world? How would be act before that moment? And what would be do in that moment? Midrash says that Moses used that mountain to bestow material and spiritual blessings unto the land and the people. And as he continued to overlook the land, he continued to bestow blessings unto them, long after he left this world. Let that be our goal as well: to recognize how short life is, and to bestow blessings unto our loved ones, and to leave a lasting impact on this world, so that we continue to bestow blessings long after we’ve left this world.
-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky