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Most people are subjective, and, consequently, find it very easy to fool themselves into believing that they have good and pure intentions when, in reality, they are merely serving their self-interests. Moshe Rabbeinu, however, earned the title of Hashem’s “trusted servant,” and, as such, he always put his own concerns aside and focused only on Hashem’s interests.
Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying. “Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites; afterward you will be gathered unto your people.” Moshe spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from among yourselves for the legion that they may be against Midian to inflict Hashem's vengeance against Midian” (Bemidbar 31:1-3).
Rashi brings the words of the Siphri: “Although Moshe had heard that his death was associated with this matter, he did it gladly and did not delay.”
Hashem informed Moshe that he had one more mission to accomplish in his lifetime: to take vengeance against the Midianites who had caused the Israelites to sin. After that, he would die. However, he was not told when to execute this command and that was left to his own discretion. The Midrash says that Moshe could have lived many more years by simply delaying the battle. However, he did not think about himself but immediately commanded the army of Israel to prepare for war.
If we think about it, Moshe could have rationalized and fooled himself into believing that he actually had the People’s interests in mind, not his own; for, in reality, it was they, more than anyone, who needed that Moshe should live as long as possible and continue to be their leader who taught them, guided them and protected them.
But the “trusted servant” never even entertained such thoughts. His entire being was totally devoted to Hashem, and when He heard His wish that the Israelites take vengeance against Midian, he executed it at once.
The Midrash relates, however, that Yehoshua, Moshe’s student who replaced him as leader of the Israelites, did not follow in his path in this instance. He had been told by Moshe, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall come with this people to the Land that Hashem swore to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it” (Devarim 31:7). Yehoshua understood from this that he would live until all of the battles to conquer the Land of Cana’an were completed. Therefore, he prolonged the war as long as he could as it says, “Yehoshua made war a long time with all those kings” (Yehoshua 11:18). But he was mistaken. For he was supposed to live one hundred twenty years, like Moshe, but, because of this, Hashem cut short ten years of his life and he only lived to be one hundred ten (Midrash Bemidbar Rabbah 22:5).
No doubt that Yehoshua was really not thinking about himself but about his people who needed him to live longer. Indeed, after Yehoshua and the Elders died, the Jews turned to idolatry and were terribly punished for their iniquity, as is related in chapter two of Shoftim. He probably wanted to avoid this catastrophe, or at least delay it for as long as possible. But the true servant of Hashem controls even these lofty desires and is totally subservient to Hashem’s will, leaving all calculations and considerations solely to Him.
In this week’s Haftarah, the prophet Yirmiyahu rebukes the Jews and says, “How can you say, ‘I am not polluted, I have not gone after Ba’alim’? See your way in the valley, know what you have done” (Yirmiyahu 2:23). It seems strange. The messenger of Hashem refutes their denials of wrongdoing and says, “See your way in the valley.” It is as if he has shown them a video of them caught in the act of idolatry. Why, then, does he have to add to that, “Know what you have done?”
The answer is that even when it is undeniably clear what one has done, he can still convince himself, and try to convince others, that his intentions were righteous and his act guiltless. Therefore, the Navi (prophet) implores them to introspect and recognize the underlying truth of their actions and return to Hashem.
May we always be honest with ourselves and with others, and perform Hashem’s will trustworthily, and then we will be happy in this world and the world-to-come.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network