Kiss of Death

Midrash explains how Moses could be happy with dying.

Print this page Print this page

The following piece shows how midrash functions by exploring one midrashic teaching, Starting with a short piece from the Bible, the authors bring a classical midrash on it, followed by their explanation of the midrash. Afterward, they offer their own modern interpretations on the text and midrash in sections marked "D'rash"--meaning to examine or investigate--and "Another D'rash." The latter is a play on the common midrashic technique of adding additional interpretations by saying, Davar aher, "another interpretation."  Excerpted with permission from Searching for Meaning in Midrash (Jewish Publication Society).

Bible Text: Deuteronomy 32:48-52

moses' deathThat very day the Lord spoke to Moses: Ascend these heights of Abarim to Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab facing Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites as their holding. You shall die on the mountain that you are about to ascend, and shall be gathered to your kin, as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his kind; for you both broke faith with Me among the Israelite people, at the waters of Meribath-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, by failing to uphold My sanctity among the Israelite people. You shall view the land from a distance, but you shall not enter it--the land that I am giving to the Israelite people.

Midrash Text: Sifrei Ha'azinu 339

As your brother Aaron died. The death that he longed for. How did Moses long to die as Aaron [died]? When the Holy One, praised is He, told him, "Take Aaron and his son Eleazar... strip Aaron of his vestments" (Numbers 20:25-26). These are the priestly vestments that he dressed Eleazar in, and so [he did with] the second one [vestment] and the third one. He [God] told him [Aaron], "Enter the cave," and he entered. "Get up on the bier," and he got up. "Stretch out your hands," and he stretched them out. "Close your mouth," and he closed it. "Shut your eyes," and he shut them. At that very moment, Moses said, "Happy is one who dies this kind of death!" Thus it says, "As your brother Aaron died," the death he longed for.

Context

In the Deuteronomy text, God tells Moses to die "as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor."The Rabbis seem puzzled by the Hebrew word ka'asher,"as." They inter­pret it to mean not "You too will die, just asAaron died, as all people eventually die," but rather, "You will die asAaron died, in just the same way, in the manner that Aaron died."

The Rabbis also may have made a wordplay: ka'asher may have triggered an association with the Hebrew word ashrei, "happy." The Rabbis saw Aaron's death as happy--peaceful and serene, one that anyone would long for:

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Gershon Schwartz was the rabbi of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, Penn., from 2000-2003. He co-authored Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living.

Rabbi Michael Katz

Michael Katz is the rabbi of Temple Beth Torah in Westbury, N.Y. He is the author of The Rabbi's Wife.