“Or what great nation has laws and rules as perfect as all this Torah is set before you this day?”
Parashat Va-etchanan opens with Moses recounting his pleading (Va-etchanan) with God to enter the land of Canaan. God stands firm, but allows Moses to climb up the mountainside to see the land once before he dies. It’s a bittersweet consolation, to say the least.
The Tsene Rene (~1590s; a Yiddish-language anthology of rabbinic interpretations of the weekly Torah portion, written for women) includes the imagined details of this dialogue. When God says no, Moses begs to be buried in Canaan, at least. God refuses this request, too (Sifrei Numbers). So Moses responds, “Master of the Universe! If Joseph’s bones were permitted to be carried into Canaan, why not mine?” God reminds Moses when Joseph is approached by Pharoah’s baker and cup-bearer in the Egyptian jail to interpret their dreams, he identifies himself as one who was, “…stolen away from the land of the Hebrews…” (Gen. 40:15). But when Moses rescues Jethro’s daughters by the well and they describe him to their father as, “An Egyptian…” (Ex. 2:19), Moses doesn’t correct them by saying “I am a Hebrew.” (Deut. Rabah 2.8) Joseph identifies with the land; Moses does not. Therefore Moses does not merit to be buried in the land.
Va-etchanan, then, is a statement about ethnic pride. Joseph has lots; Moses, not so much. Pride is a hard-to-quantify attribute, though. Last year’s PEW Report (again?) reports Jews (of any stripe) are overwhelmingly proud of being Jewish. Va-etchan is a reminder; a sense of pride is necessary, but without a visible expression of that pride, it is insufficient.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom