This past week, our Shabbat Torah reading, which was the second portion of the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), opened with one of the most poignant and moving statements ever made by the great leader Moshe Rabbenu (Moses). G-d has previously told Moshe that, despite Moshe’s great love for Eretz Israel, he will never enter the Land with the people that he has been leading for so many years through the desert.
In our reading, Moshe described to the people how he pleaded over and over with G-d to allow him to come into the Land:
“And I pleaded with HaShem at that time, saying, My Lord, HaShem, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness, and Your mighty hand; for what power is there in heaven or on earth, that can do Your works or has Your might? I beg You, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond the Yarden, that good mountain, and the Levanon.” (Va’etchanan 3:23 – 25)
It is said that the air of Israel makes one wise because of the holiness that permeates it. If he could not enter to live in the land, Moshe wished to at least soar in the air above the land, to taste its holiness.
“If You will not allow me to enter the Land, allow me to [enter] as a bird that flies in the air to all four corners of the earth to collect its feed, and in the evening returns to its nest—let my soul be as one of those!”
This is just one of many Midrashic tales that make beautiful connections between the Biblical narrative and birds. A genre of rabbinic literature, the Midrash are collections of homilies, parables, stories and interpretations, explaining verses in the Tanach (Bible). Much of the early Midrashic literature is believed to have been compiled nearly 2000 years ago.
Although I referred to this amazing moment in a blog post last year, I wanted to elaborate a bit here, because it is one of my favorite interpretations of this touching scene in the closing chapters of the Torah.