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Hashem decreed Moshe Rabbeinu’s death by the hitting of the rock in the Torah portion of Chukas. Now, Moshe is faced with the reality for the first time that he will pass on before entering the Promise Land in this week’s Torah portion of Pinchas, “Hashem said to Moshe, “Go up to this mount Abarim and look at the land that I have given to the children of Israel. And when you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, just as Aaron your brother was gathered…” (Bamidbar 27:12, 13). Responding, “Moses spoke to Hashem, saying: “Let the Lord, the God of spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation…” (Bamidbar 27:15, 16).
The Ralbag learns from Moshe’s response that those who have lived a complete, well-rounded life are not afraid of death, for they don’t greatly choose the life in this physical world, as there is something much better after they acquire all their intellect, which can only be appreciated in its entirety after one loses his physicality. For this reason we don’t find that Moshe was scared of dying;at this point and in any other place in time rather, Moshe requested from Hashem to appoint a person over the congregation who would put all his efforts into leading them, because his intentions were to do what was good for as long as possible. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
There is an innate drive in every living being to stay alive and to cower from death. It is in everyone’s natural instincts to do whatever they can to stay alive, to the point that a person will automatically recoil when faced with a burning fire.
Anyone who feels the opposite is deemed to be unhealthy and possibly dangerous to themselves or others. Yet we find here that those who have reached human perfection, who have fulfilled their potential in life, do not fear death. Indeed, on the contrary, those individuals would rather die than live in this finite world. How does this seem appropriate for such an upstanding citizen of society and leader as Moshe Rabbeinu?
Furthermore it seems that Moshe did request from Hashem (in the Torah portion of Vaeschanan) to change the deadly decree on him, and get permission to enter the Promised Land with the Jewish people. So what does the Ralbag mean?
It would seem that in fact Moshe felt he was not finished yet with his mission in life. He believed that he could gain better insights to take with him to the Land of Eternity, if only he could enter the Holy Land. Which is why he davened 515 prayers to enter The Land. But he was not terrified of death itself, because he understood that his physical body in fact hindered the ultimate spiritual and intellectual experience of basking in the Presence of Hashem and appreciating the Torah he learnt in this world on a more pure and Divine level.
Only one who has nearly completed his mission in life and feels no need for his body anymore can wholly appreciate this, if not then on whatever level one is on there is this natural pull and drive to stay physically alive.