After Moses' final oration (the book of Devarim) to the Children of Israel, he prepares for death. His death is orchestrated directly by G-d. Of course, this is so for every man's death, but in Moses' case all the orchestration was explicit and is recorded in the Torah.
A drash that must be understood to be fully appreciated.
Deut. 32: 48
"And Hashem spoke to Moses on that self-same day saying."
And Hashem spoke to Moses on that self same day: Rashi: In three places it says 'on the self same day.' It is said about Noah 'on the self same day Noah entered, etc.' when the light of day was in full view. Because his contemporaries said, 'By this and by that (an oath) if we sense him [entering the ark] we won't let him enter the ark and not only that, we will get sledgehammers and axes and smash the ark!' The Holy One, blessed be He, said, 'I will bring him [into the ark] in mid-day. Let anyone who has the power to protest, do so. Concerning Egypt, it is said, 'on the self same day Hashem took out, etc.' Because the Egyptians had said 'By this and by that, if we sense [them leaving] we won't let them go. And not only that, we will get swords and other weapons and kill them. The Holy One, blessed be He, said 'I will take them out [of Egypt] in mid-day. Let anyone powerful enough to protest, do so.' Here as well, concerning Moses' death, it is said 'on the self same day.' Because the Israelites said 'By this and by that, if we sense him [leaving] we won't let him [go]. The man who took us out of Egypt, split the Sea for us, and brought down the Manna for us, brought us the quail and raised up the well and gave us the Torah - we won't let him! The Holy One, blessed be He, said 'Behold I will take him in mid-day etc.'
This is a beautiful midrash which emphasizes the people's love and appreciation of Moses. It is important to stress this, considering all the trouble the people had made for him during the forty years of his leadership.
UNDERSTANDING THE DRASH
The drash is based on the fact that the Hebrew word "etzem" translated here as "self same" and in the drash as "mid-day" is superfluous. The verse would have the same meaning were it omitted. The drash takes the word to mean "in the strength of the day." This is because the word "etzem" can also mean "strength."
As in Deut. 8:17
"My power and the strength of my hand ("etzem yadi") made for me this wealth."
Thus the "strength of the day" becomes "in mid-day," when the sun is strongest.
Now let us question Rashi.
Some Rashi commentaries have questioned Rashi's statement "in three places it says 'on the self same day.'" They point out that there is another place, which Rashi doesn't mention here, where the words 'on the self same day.' appear. This in parashas Lech Lecha. (Genesis 17:23):
"And Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his home…..and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskin on that self same day as G-d had spoken to him."
Rashi even comments on this verse in Genesis and says:
"By day and not by night. He was not afraid of the scoffers so that his enemies should not say 'Had we seen him we would not have let him do the circumcision and fulfill G-d's commandment."
Since Rashi commented on the verse, he was aware of it when he wrote his commentary on our verse. The question is: Why didn't he include it in his list of verses that had the words on that self same day?
Can you see why? Can you see a difference between this verse and the three that Rashi does cite?
An Answer: The verse in Lech Lecha while it has the same phrase, isn't used in the same way as the other three are. The three verses that Rashi cites all tell us that G-d made certain that no one would interfere with His plan. Noah was allowed to enter the Ark; the Israelites were allowed to leave Egypt. But in Abraham's case the point of the verse was different. It was Abraham's courage, not G-d's intervention that was the issue. And since Rashi's whole point on our verse is to show how Hashem made sure that His plan was executed, he cites only those verses that are relevant to this point.
A DEEPER LOOK
But as we look at the last part of Rashi's comment, which refers to Moses' death, we could ask a question. Rashi says:
" Here as well, concerning Moses' death, it is said 'on the self same day.' Because the Israelites said 'By this and by that, if we sense him [leaving] we won't let him [go]. The man who took us out of Egypt, split the Sea for us, and brought down the Manna for us, brought us the quail and raised up the well and gave us the Torah - we won't let him!"
A Question: How is our verse about Moses' death similar to the case of Noah entering the Ark or to that of Israel leaving Egypt? A jealous mob could conceivably stop Noah from entering the Ark; incensed hooligans could possibly stop Israel from escaping their country, but how can any human stop another person from dying? How could the anxious Israelites prevent Moses' death?
What does Rashi mean?
A DEEPER UNDERSTNDING
An Answer: The next verses (32:49,50) tells us what G-d said to Moses on that "self-same day."
"Go up to this Mount Ha'avarim, Mount Nevo, which is in the land of Moab, that faces Jericho….and die on the mountain, upon which you are going up there…"
We see that a precondition for Moses' death was that he go up the mountain. He was to die on the mountain and had first to ascend the mountain. It was this ascension that the people thought they could prevent. If they stopped Moses from going up Mount Nevo, they would prevent his imminent death. Or so they thought. That is exactly what Rashi means when he says: "Because the Israelites said 'By this and by that, if we sense him [leaving] we won't let him [go].
Shabbat Shalom and A Gemar Chatima Tova.
What’s Bothering Rashi?” is produced by the “Institute for the Study of Rashi.”
The Devarim volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is now out and should be at your Jewish bookstore. Ask for it. This volume features Rashi and the Ba'alie Tosafos.