Monday, 22 September 2008
Running Away From Holiness
In a few weeks (has the summer whipped by already) we will read of the death of our greatest prophet and saint, Moshe Rabeinu, a"h. Considering his accomplishments, it's incredible to think that until this day we have no idea where his grave is. Some have suggested the reason for this is because God did not wish to make a holy site out of it where people would come to worship. As Rav Frand puts it: Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch explains that the Torah saw the potential that Moshe Rabbeinu's grave could become a deity. It is important for all of us to remember that when we visit the graves of the righteous, we do not pray TO the righteous people that they should bless us. We are forbidden to pray TO a human being – dead or alive! We visit the graves of Tzadikim to ask that they petition on our behalf to the Ribono shel Olam. We are not allowed to daven TO the Tzadik. The Torah saw the potential of such a thing happening with Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe was a person of such monumental stature that the Torah feared lest his burial place would become a shrine. The Torah is also informing us that as monumental a person as Moshe Rabbeinu was, there needed to be a new leader once he died. No one could fill his shoes, but that was irrelevant. Life must go on. The Torah stresses this idea by emphasizing, "You will come to the Judge who will be present IN THOSE DAYS" [Devorim 17:9] and "You will come to the Priest who will be present IN THOSE DAYS." [Devorim 26:3] But at first glance, this reason seems insufficient. After all, we know the location of the graves of our three forefathers and scattered throughout Israel are the tombs of many other Biblical figures. What's more, it's quite customary for people to go to Kever Rachel to do just what Rav Frand says we should not do: pray to a dead tzadik for Heavenly intercession. So why can we know where Moshe Rabeinu's grave is? I would suggest there is one essential difference between Moshe Rabeinu's tomb and those of the forefathers and mothers is the location. Moshe Rabeinu's tomb is outside the land of Israel while the others are all inside. How does this make a difference? When we pray to dead tzadikim, we are not, chas v'shalom, investing them with any power to help us. We invoke their memory, and the recollection of their deeds, to try and increase our power of prayer and invoke mercy in our Heavenly Father to help us in times of trouble. God promised our forefathers that He would make their descendents into a great people and give them the holy land of Israel as an inheritance. The complete Jew is the one who lives a live of Torah observance in the Land of Israel and is then buried there. For Moshe Rabeinu, as great as his accomplishment and holiness were, this privilege was denied. He died incomplete, having never crossed the Yarden river. Our forefathers and mothers however, did live lives of Godly observance in the Land. There were, in that sense, complete. As a result, it seems to make sense that praying at the graves of our forefathers and mothers in Israel would be more effective. We approach people who were not only unrivalled in their personal holiness and appreciation of the Divine, but who also lived out what God had intended for them and promised to their descendents. In them we seen the potential we must live up to in order to fully appreciate what God offers us every moment. They are the perfect examples of what we must become while Moshe Rabeinu, by missing out on entering the Land, is not. Which makes it that much more bizarre to me when I read about Breslov chasidim who live in our Land rushing to leave it just at the most important time of the year to congregate in a God forsaken corner of the cursed Ukraine. Reading through the article, I realized the each one of the principles to be avoided when visiting the grave of a tzadik is being violated by these so-called pious ones. What kind of Judaism is this? Is the grave of Rebbe Nachman now more holy than God's chosen Land? Is spending the most important time of the year in a country that our fathers were slaughtered in only 60 years ago more important than listening to the sound of the shofar and feeling the intrinsic kedushah of Israel?