Was Moses’ Death Punishment or Reward?

On the holiday of Simḥat Torah (which fell on Monday in Israel and Tuesday in the Diaspora) the annual cycle of readings from the Pentateuch is concluded with the end of Deuteronomy. Here God instructs Moses to survey the land of Israel from a mountain vantage point, but forbids him from entering. This is generally understood as punishment of the Israelites’ dying leader, but James A. Diamond wonders whether it is really something else:

Should Moses have extended his leadership tenure and guided the people into the land, he would have been faced with . . . more of the same anguish and suffering he had experienced up until this point. It would surely have entailed the wrangling, the complaints, the jealousy, and the power struggles that accompany the burdens of state- building. . . . God does not invite Moses up the mountain to deny him entry into the Promised Land (“I have let you see it with your own eyes, But you shall not cross there”), but rather to preempt the pain of doing so, while assuring him that his vision will inevitably become a reality. The verse reads better as “I have let you see it with your own eyes, and there you need not cross.”

Moses is thus spared being mired in the partisan machinations that—as the historical record of the books of Joshua, [Judges, Samuel, and] Kings (let alone the contemporary history of the modern Jewish state!) evidence—would certainly have ensued. His record then of autonomy and initiative, even in the face of divine obstinacy, is preserved and remains untarnished by the political intrigue that would have inevitably consumed him to the very end.

Read more at Seforim

More about: Deuteronomy, Hebrew Bible, Moses, Religion & Holidays, Simhat Torah


What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security