Bible Review 15:6, December 1999


Did Moses Enter the Promised Land?

By Michael M. Cohen

Bible Review

Moses never entered the Land of Israel. Because of one act of disobedience, when he hit a rock in anger instead of praying to it (Numbers 20:11),1 God told him he could never set foot in the land of milk and honey, the land that represented the fulfillment of his life’s work. That’s how centuries of tradition have told the story. And that’s what we believe. How unfair it seems, knowing all that Moses did for the Israelites.

But is there another reading of this text? Is it possible that Moses did cross the Jordan River?

According to tradition, Deuteronomy 31 relates what took place on the last day of Moses’ life. It opens with the words Vayeilech Moshe, “And Moses went.” But, as Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky, dean of the Yeshiva of the South Shore, Long Island, recently asked, “Where did he go?”2

The sentence immediately following reads, “He [Moses] said to them, ‘A hundred and twenty years old am I today; I am no longer able to go-out and to come-in, and God has said to me, “You are not to cross over this Jordan!”’” (Deuteronomy 31:2). Kamenetsky writes, “If he, in fact, was telling the people that he can no longer come and go, then why open the portion with the words, ‘and Moshe [Moses] went?’ If not contradictory, they are certainly superfluous.”3

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