The Mysterious Burial
Translated and adapted from “Parsha U’Pishra”Rabbi Moshe Grylak
The end of the Torah story line draws near. The inevitable and commonplace, but at the same time strangely incongruent with our possible expectations for a religious leader of such magnitude.
“So Moses, servant of Hashem, died there, in the land of Moab” (Deuteronomy 34: 5).
Founders of other religions have concocted larger “careers” for themselves. More than one made themselves into gods, or at least son of G-d, and some still hold their positions to this day. And this spiritual leader of the deepest religious revolution in world history remained a human being, and died a natural death of old age.
So clear the Torah wants to be about Moshe (Moses)’s human status, that as his death nears, the Torah emphasizes his sin that precluded his entering into Israel.
“And you will die on the mountain… because you trespassed against Me among the Children of Israel at the waters of Meribath-kadesh” (ibid 32: 50-51).
The Torah makes no attempts to hide anything, even to the extent of sometimes magnifying the mistakes of the leaders.
The nation heard this and it is recorded for all generations to understand. It was important enough to stress that Moshe was not superhuman. He was a man, conceived and born as are babies, and taken from this world as are all mortals.
Moshe went so far as to use himself as an example. “He took both his hands and placed them on his heart and said to Israel, ‘See the end of man’” (Tanchuma V’Eschanan 6). Even a man like Moshe.
And yet, “No one knows his burial place to this day” (Deuteronomy 34: 6).
Moshe’s grave is unmarked on a mountain we cannot identify today. There is definite design in this obscurity, as it prevents the Jews from turning the site into a place of worship, gradually dimming the boundary between respect and love for a devoted leader and teacher and ritualistic deification. These boundaries are sacrosanct in Judaism. We do not pray to angels, and when we turn to a mentor or Rebbe, it is for their help in approaching the Almighty.
Still, Moshe was not just like anyone else. He was a human being who tapped into life’s infinite potential, elevating himself to a level where he could converse with the Almighty “face to face” (ibid 10). His mistakes, obviously, were not on the level of our misbehaviors.
Measuring Moshe as superhuman is missing the point. Moshe is one of the ten in the Torah referred to as a “man of G-d,” a complete man with a full life who lived until the day he died, by the spiritual light with which he was born.