The Paradox of Moses’ Death
The final eight verses of the Torah describe the death of Moses. Our sages have two opinions as to who wrote these verses. The first opinion is that God dictated these last eight verses to Moses’ successor, Joshua. The second opinion is that just as the rest of the Torah was written by Moses, so, too, were these verses that describe his death. God dictated the verses to Moses, and Moses wrote them with tears in his eyes.
Just as the exact authorship of the verses about Moses’ death remains unclear, so the exact location of of his gravesite is also unclear. Our sages describe the paradox of Mt. Nevo, saying that if one is above on the mountain, Mose’s gravesite appears to be below him, but when he reaches the point below, the gravesite seems to be elusively above him.
The Mountain of Paradox
The paradox of Moses’ death and gravesite relates to the concept of touching and not touching, (as explained in Rabbi Ginsburgh’s audio lecture on the Torah portion of Ha’azinu). The paradox of touching while simultaneously not touching is one of the secrets of the Fiftieth Gate of Understanding, to which Moses aspired all his life. He received this fiftieth gate now, moments before his death, at Mount Nevo, (in Hebrew spelled: nun, beit, vav). The essential essence of Mount Nevo is nun bo (nun; beit, vav) “nun is within it.” The nun, whose numerical value is 50, also alludes to noge’ah v’eino nogeáh, “touching and not touching –” (the initial letters of noge’ah v’eino nogeáh spell nun) the paradox of the location of the gravesite of Moses and of who wrote the final verses about his death.
The Paradoxical Permutation
In Hebrew, Moses’ name, Moshe, is spelled mem, shin, hei. In the fourth verse of the unit written about Moses’ death, God says to Moses, “I have shown you the Land of Israel with your eyes, but to there (shama, spelled shin, mem, hei) you will not pass.” The word shama is a permutation of Moshe. The epitome of the desire of Moses’ entire life was to bring the Jewish People into the Land of Israel, where he would then be able to bring the redemption. God, however, planned otherwise. Moshe’s very essence cannot yet enter shama, to the Land of Israel. He has to wait until his final incarnation as Mashiach. In this incarnation, he can only see the Land, projecting his eternal presence into it with his eyes.
The Panoramic View
When Moses stands at the summit of Mount Nevo, God shows him a panorama of the Promised Land, from north to south. The Torah describes the Land that Moses sees according to the inheritances of the Tribes. To the very north, Moses first sees and connects to the inheritance of Dan, followed by the inheritance of Naftali around the Sea of Galilee. He then looks father south to the inheritance of Efraim and Menashe in the area surrounding Shechem. Finally, Moses looks upon the inheritance of Judah, from Jerusalem until the yam hacharon, the “Final Sea” (the Mediterranean). Our Sages point out the word for “sea,” yam is cognate to the word for “day,” yom. Thus the verse would read that Moses saw until the “final day.” The panorama that God showed Moses included not only the physical Promised Land, but also all of Jewish history until the final days of the Mashiach and the resurrection of the dead.
The Simultaneous Birth and Death of Moses
In the description of Moses’ view of the Land of Israel, the Torah only mentions five of the twelve tribes. This obviously points to a message inherent in the significance of these particular tribes. To understand what that message can be, we will first calculate the numerical values of the names of these tribes: Dan (54), Naftali (570), Efraim (331), Menashe (395) and Yehudah (30). The sum of these names is 1380, which is four times the numerical value of Moshe (345).
In Kabbalah we learn that every word evolves from its first letter. The second letter is then added, then the third letter, etc. The appearance of the name Moshe is as follows: mem; mem shin; mem shin hei. The name devolves in the same manner: mem shin hei; shin hei; hei. If both of these processes are summed together, the total will always be the number of letters of the word plus 1, times the numerical value of the word. In the case of the name Moshe, which has three letters, the sum of the appearance and disappearance of his name is 1380, which is 4 (3 letters plus 1) times the numerical value of his name, 345.
Moses was born on the 7th of the Hebrew month of Adar and also died on the same day. From the numerical value of the names of the tribes we learn the secret of the simultaneous birth and death of Moses. As the appearance and disappearance of his name, Moses, who will ultimately reincarnate as the Mashiach, paradoxically dies and is reborn constantly, at the very same moment.
The Flow of the Tribes
In his final moments on earth, Moses stands at the summit of Mount Nevo, connecting with his eyes to every portion of the Promised Land. As explained above, Moses is also shown the entire flow of Jewish history in the Land, until the coming of the Mashiach (the Moses of the generation). We must understand why these particular tribes are explicitly mentioned as coming into Moses’ view, and what message it holds for him.
The first classic Kabbalah text, Sefer Yetzirah, teaches that every tribe has an inner sense. The inner senses of the tribes shown to Moses in this particular order, hold the secret of his final reincarnation as the Mashiach.
The first tribe that Moses is shown is Dan, whose inner sense is anger or righteous indignation. This is the holy anger that eradicates evil. In the Torah portion of Va’etchanan (listen to Rabbi Ginsburgh’s audio lecture on the Torah portion of Va’etchaan), we meditated on the Mashiach as the smoke of the fire that burns away evil in the world. The Mashiach’s first goal is to eradicate evil. Our sages add that the tribe of Dan, with its sense of holy anger, will produce the commander-in-chief of the army of the Mashiach.
Moses is next shown the tribe of Dan’s brother, Naftali, whose inner sense is laughter. When evil is conquered and eradicated, the Mashiach will have the ability to incorporate the holy sparks in what previously was seen as evil into the good. This produces tremendous joy and laughter in the soul — the joy of the shell being incorporated into the core.
The next tribe that Moses is shown is Efraim, whose sense is marital union. After the victory over evil and its incorporation in the good comes the settling of the Promised Land. Throughout the Bible, settlement of the Land of Israel by the Jewish People is compared to marital union. In addition, in order to settle the Land, the Jewish People must procreate, bearing more and more Jews who can live in all parts of the Land of Israel.
Next Moses is shown the tribe of Efraim’s brother, Menashe. The inner sense of Menashe is smell. Our sages say that the most definitive sign of Mashiach is that he is able to judge — to differentiate between truth and falsehood — with his sense of smell. At this point, the Mashiach already manifests as the leader of the Jewish People and of the entire world.
Finally, Moses is shown the tribe of Judah, whose sense is speech. Speech is leadership, and comes into focus in the Mashiach and in the Temple. After the Mashiach properly judges the people, the world will be ready for the revelation of the new Torah of the Mashiach. God has been waiting to reveal this inner dimension of the Torah since the first moment of creation. Mashiach will reveal it through his sense of speech.
The Depths of God’s Heart
The secrets of the inner dimension of the Torah are the depths of God’s heart. Never has God revealed these depths verbally. Only the Mashiach, the epitome of the ability to express Godliness through words, will reveal these inner depths. Redemption is the ability of the heart to express itself fully in words. Through the speech of the Mashiach, the very depths of the heart of God will be revealed.
As Moses prepares to leave this world, God shows him the flow of his final incarnation. When he returns as the Mashiach, Moses will redeem the world and reveal the Torah of the Mashiach — the inner depths of the heart of God.