Moshe – did he enter Eretz Yisrael

Did Moshe Rabbeinu enter Eretz Yisroel? The question seems ridiculous. Everyone knows that Moshe pleaded to be allowed into Eretz Yisroel and that Hashem turned him down. Yet surprisingly, a number of seforim discuss this issue and reach different conclusions.

Some Say He Did

The Meshech Chochmah (Devorim 11:31) asks a simple question. In the Yalkut Shimoni, Rav Simlai asks: Why did Moshe want to enter Eretz Yisroel? Did he want to eat its fruits? Rav Simlai answers that Moshe wanted to fulfill the mitzvos that only apply in Eretz Yisroel such as terumos and maasros.

Now, the Ramban states that living in Eretz Yisroel is a positive mitzvah. If so, asks the Meshech Chochmah, why didn’t Rav Simlai simply say that Moshe wanted to fulfill the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisroel?

The Meshech Chochmah answers that this answer was impossible for
the simple reason that Moshe was already in Eretz Yisroel. The lands of Sichon and Og that Moshe conquered in Ewer Hayarden (the east bank of the Yarden) were the former territories of the Emori whose land was promised to Avrohom (Shemos 3:6). If living in Ewer Hayarden did not fulfill the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisroel., the Meshech Chochmah adds, the tribes of Reuven and Gad would never have dreamed of living there.

In conclusion, according to the Ramban, we must say that Moshe entered Eretz Yisroel and fulfilled the mitzvah of living there.

A Second Proof

The Poroshas Derochim (Derech Hakodesh, derush shemini) proves that Moshe entered Eretz Yisroel from another angle.

The Torah says: When Hashem your G-d brings you into the land He swore to yourfathers… to give you great and good cities, which you built not, and houses full of all good things which you filled not…, beware lest you forget Hashem (Devorim 6:10-12).

The Gemara (Chullin 17a) derives from the expression, houses full of good things, that in the seven years the Jews spent conquering Eretz Yisroel they could eat everything they found in the Canaanite homes including non-kosher food.

According to the Rambam (hilchos Melochim 8:1) the food wasn’t actually kosher. He compares eating such food to the concept of yefas to’ar and says that the leniency only applied when no kosher food was available.

On the other hand, the Ramban (Devorim 6:10) writes that the non kosher food found in Canaanite homes was absolutely kosher during the seven years of conquest. Jews could eat it even when kosher food was available. During that limited time, non-kosher food was kosher.

With this principle, the Ramban answers a puzzling question. The first time the Torah commanded the Jews to kasher non-Jewish cooking implements was after they conquered Midyon (Bamidbar 31:23). Asks the Ramban: Why didn’t Hashem command them to kosher non-kosher utensils during the earlier war against Sichon and Og in Eiver Hayarden?

The answer is simple, says the Ramban. Sichon and Og ruled over the territory of the Emori that Hashem promised to Avrohom. Their non kosher food was kosher during the conquest and there was no need to kasher their food utensils. But Midyon was never promised to Avrohom. When the Jews fought against Midyon, the cooking implements they captured were a hundred percent treifa and needed to be kashered.

You might ask, if Moshe indeed entered Eretz Yisroel, for the land of Sichon and Og (Eiver Hayarden) was part of the land promised to Avrohom, why did Hashem oppose him entering Eretz Yisroel when he was already inside it?

The Poroshas Derochim answers that it did not bother Hashem that Moshe was inside Eretz Yisroel. Hashem wanted to prevent Moshe’s entry into the main part of Eretz Yisroel. This would have led to his building the Beis Hamikdosh, which would have been indestructible as everything Moshe did endured forever, and without the two churbans that lay ahead, the future of Klal Yisroel would have gone awry.

Some Say He Didn’t

The Chida (Rosh Dovid, parshas Voeschanan) and the Yeshuos Malko (chelek Kiryas Arba, hilchos Terumos) do not share the above approach. Both say that Moshe never reached Eretz Yisroel. Even though the lands of Sichon and Og were promised to Avrohom, they only got the fill status of Eretz Yisroel after the Jews conquered the main part of Erei Canaan on the west side of the Yarden.

Even if Moshe did get into Eretz Yisroel, everyone agrees that the sanctity of Eiver Hayarden he reached had less sanctity than that of the rest of Eretz Yisroel. The medrash (Bamidbar Raba 7:8) explicitly writes, “Eretz Yisroel is holier than all the lands… Eretz Kenaan is holier than Eiver Hayarden.”

The Ramban (Vayikra 21:21) adds that Eiver Hayarden does not have the property of flowing with milk and honey and cites a medrash (Medrash Raba Neso 7:8) that it was not fit for the building of the Beis Hamikdosh or for hashro’as (resting of) the Shechinah. The Zohar (Yisro 79b) makes a similar distinction.

Rav Shimon bar Tzemach Duran (1361-1444) writes that many other positive qualities of Eretz Yisroel do not apply there such as Chazal’ promise that someone who lives in Eretz Yisroel has his sins forgiven an that someone buried there is considered as if he is buried beneath the alt (Sanhedrin 111a). He says the same about Chazal’s statement that the air Eretz Yisroel makes one wise (Bava Basra 158b).

Citing the Gemara (Kesuvos 112a) where people kissed the stones and rolled in the Earth of Eretz Yisroel in fulfillment of the verse, ForYour servants favor its stones (Tehillim 102:14), the Tashbeitz{Tashbeitzvol. 3,pg.200) says that this too does not apply in Eiver Hayarden, as it lacks the sanctity of the Shechina, He also proves that it was no advantage for Moshe to be buried there.

The Holy Earth of Eretz Yisroel

In the course of his discussion, the Tashbeitz cites a Gemara (Megillah 29a) which says that the Shechinah went with the Jews to Bavel after the first churban and that it rests in the two shuls of Hutzel and Naharda’a. Rashi comments that the shul in Naharda’a was built from stones and Earth brought there by the exiles in fulfillment of the verse, For Your servants favored its stones.

Rashi’s statement indicates that the earth of Eretz Yisroel has sanctity even when it is removed to the Diaspora. By the same token, Na’aman, the Assyrian general Elisha cured of tzora’as, said before he returned home, Let there please be given to your servant two mule burdens of earth. For your servan. will no longer offer a burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to Hashem {11 Melochim 5:17), and Rashi explains: “Let there please be given from this earth of Eretz Yisroel, which is holy, the burden of two mules and I will carry it to my town and make it into an altar.”

The principle that the Earth of Eretz Yisroel has special sanctity has a practical application in our day and age.

Placing the Earth of Eretz Yisroel in a Grave

The Rama (YD 363:1) writes that in the Diaspora there is a minhag to bury people with the earth of Eretz Yisroel. However, the Ohr Zarua (Aveilus 419) who lived in the 13th century said he was not certain the minhag had a reliable source.

“Regarding people’s minhag of placing earth from Eretz Yisroel in a grave, I, the author, found its source in a Yerushalmi (Kilayim 9:3) and in a Tanchuma (parshas Vayechi)f he wrote. “They say: ‘[Rebbe bar] Kirya and Rabi Elazar were walking in Istaron and saw coffins arriving from the Diaspora. Rebbe bar Kirya said to Rabi Elazar: What does it help them, etc. He replied to him: When they arrive in Eretz Yisroel and they take a piece of earth and place it in their coffins, His land shall atone for His nation.’ However, there is no proof from there that this should be of benefit for a grave in the Diaspora.”

The Maharam of Rothenberg who lived at the same time as the Ohr Zarua also says that the Yerushalmi is not solid proof for the custom of placing earth of Eretz Yisroel on graves in the Diaspora (Teshuvos Upesakim Me’eis Chachmei Ashkenaz Utzarfas, page 115). Nonetheless, Rav Chaim Paltiel, a talmid of the Maharam of Rottenberg, wrote that many people practiced the minhag in his time and it has been mentioned by many poskim since.

The custom of placing Earth of Eretz Yisroel on graves was sometimes even
observed by non-Jews. The traveler Moshe Basulah reports of his 1522 visit to Cyprus: “There is a place there where many ships brought earth from Eretz Yisroel. They used to bury their ministers at that place in earlier times. This is a sign that everyone agrees to the holiness of Eretz Yisroel.”

It is reported that Rav Shlomo Kluger said that if it is impossible to obtain the earth of Eretz Yisroel to put on a kever, one should at least take dirt from the floor of a shul or beis medrash for the purpose, preferably from the place where the shliach tzibbur stands.

The minhag is staunchly observed by many Jews until today. Two years ago, the Jewish kehillah in Prague panicked when workers doing renovations in the local chevrah kadisha building accidentally threw away bags of soil from Eretz Yisroel used for the community’s burials. In despair, the chevrah kadisha turned to the Israeli Embassy in Prague and asked if they could bring in more soil from Eretz Yisroel.

After the embassy transferred their request to the Foreign Ministry in Yerushalayim, its director immediately went out to the ministry’s garden, filled some bags with earth of Eretz Yisroel, and sent the packages to Prague via diplomatic channels. The Prague kehillah had delayed a few funerals while waiting for the precious cargo to arrive. This is the power of a Jewish minhag.

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