This Good Mountain: Parashat Va’et’hanan/Shabbat Nahamu


Parashat Va’et’hanan/Shabbat Nahamu 
Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

You took my hand in yours and you said to me:
“Come, let’s go down to the garden.”
You took my hand in yours and you said to me:
“What you see from there – you don’t see from here.”

(Words: Y. Rotblit; Music: Mati Caspi)

Moses begs God to reconsider God’s judgement against Moses and allow him to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. “Please, let me cross over and I will see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.” (Deut. 3:25)

The accepted understanding of this verse is that Moses wants to see “the good land” that is the Promised Land. But the conclusion of the verse presents problems. What does he mean by “this good mountain”? And why does he wish to see Lebanon, which is not at all part of the Land? Traditional commentators follow Rabbinic interpretations that identify the “good mountain” with Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount. And “the Lebanon” is a term for the Temple itself. Of course, this is an anachronistic interpretation that does not shed light on what Moses himself wished to behold.

Perhaps the classic Israeli song quoted above can give a hint at another possible approach. Indeed, Moses wished to enter the Land. But what would he then see if he crossed the Jordan? Perhaps he imagined what it would be like to stand within his homeland and to see beyond its borders? Perhaps the “good land that is on the other side of the Jordan” refers to the land that, from his station within the Land of Israel, is on the other side of the Jordan, outside of Israel, a land that is “good,” for it was coveted by and assigned to the two and a half tribes that preferred it to entry into the land. And perhaps “this good mountain” is precisely the mountain upon which Moses stands now – outside Israel. And perhaps “Lebanon” actually refers to Lebanon, to the north of Israel.

What was Moses really asking for? Perhaps it was not to see the land. He could do that from where he was. He wanted to be in the land and look at things from there. For “what you see from there – you don’t see from here.” He begged to be able to reach a vantage point of seeing the outside – from the security of his own home. He yearned for the gift of having a place of his own from which to view the world.

This adds clarity to God’s words of refusal: “Ascend the top of this peak and cast your eyes South and North and West and East, and see with your own eyes, for you will not cross this Jordan.” (v. 27) God gives Moses the opportunity to see in every direction. Much of what he will see is exactly the same as what Moses had begged to see. But he must see those vistas from this promontory, a mountain that is not his to claim. He will see with his own eyes, but not from his own home.

As we look out beyond ourselves, what serves us as our grounding? What is our home position? Or do we see things with the eyes of one who is homeless and dispossessed? What would we be able to see from there that we cannot see from here?

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi David Greenstein

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Photo by Alex Gurung on Unsplash

Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein


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Rabbi David Greenstein

Rabbi David Greenstein

Rabbi David Greenstein arrived at Shomrei Emunah in August 2009 with a rich, broad and deep background as a rabbi, cantor, artist, scholar, and teacher. Being Shomrei’s rabbi, he says, allows him to draw on all of these passions, as well as his lifelong commitment to building Jewish communities.
Rabbi David Greenstein

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