Vaeschanan – Reality Check About Honesty

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The gemara in Rosh Hashanah 21b relates that there are 50 gates of bina, understanding, and all except for one were given to Moshe Rabbeinu, as it says “You give him dominion over Your handiwork, You placed everything under his feet” (Tehillim 8:7). Yet in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Vaeschanan, when Moshe is praying and beseeching Hashem to be allowed to enter the Land of Israel, Moshe says, “My Lord, Hashem Elokim, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand… Let me now cross and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon” (Devarim 3:24-25). 
One of the lessons the Ralbag learns from these pesukim is that “it is befitting for a person to not glorify himself with his wisdom and understanding though he has attained so much of it. Rather it is better to view oneself as if one is greatly lacking, for in this way one will be quicker to beseech perfection. For don’t we see by Moshe Rabbeinu with all the power of understanding he had reached, he still considered himself very much lacking, to the point that he said he was just beginning the path of reaching perfection and for this reason he said, ‘Hashem, Elokim you have begun to show Your servant Your greatness etc.'” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 We must put into perspective the situation. Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest prophet to have ever lived. He is referred to as the father of all prophets. The levels of spirituality and knowledge of Hashem is unfathomable, and to get a glimpse of what that means one should read the obscure medrish, Medrish Kitapuach Bi’atzei Haya’ar, which depicts Moshe’s ascent through the 7 Heavens when he went up Mount Sinai. Does this mean Moshe was lying when he said he has only begun to understand Hashem and His ways?

Granted Moshe is known in the Torah as the humblest person on earth, but even so, my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Henoch Liebowitz zt”l, in a shmuz on this concept (Chiddushei Halev Bamidbar 12:3) says, ” humility is defined as recognizing one’s special advantages and strengths and therefore understanding his purpose in life, but nevertheless feeling that people are better than him. Moshe recognized all his advantages; he knew he was humble and more perfect than any other person. He also understood that his purpose in life is to be the greatest leader of the generation for the Jews, and still in all he felt that all the Jews are better than him, because they have advantages that he does not have.”

This does not sound like he is lying to himself; so why does it seem like he is lying to himself here and saying he is only beginning to know Hashem, if in fact he was really so close to Him already and on levels of wisdom and understanding that we can’t even fathom?

In fact, the Ralbag, in his first lesson on these pesukim refers to Moshe as perfect: “Those that are perfect only choose this physical existence in order to add on to their perfection. For this reason, Moshe told Hashem that the reason why he is requesting from Hashem to cross the Jordan to see the land was because Hashem had already started to show him His greatness and His mighty hand. For this reason, Moshe chose to enter the land which was known to be the choicest and most influential by Hashem, in order so that he can add perfection to his perfection and behold Hashem’s greatness and mighty hand more than what he has already seen until now. And he did not choose this in order to eat from the fruit of the land as fools have thought.” 
We see from this Ralbag that Moshe in fact recognized his perfection, that he had fulfilled his potential in the desert, but he wanted to reach higher and greater heights of the infinite levels of perfection one can attain, and that is why he desired to enter the Land of Israel. If so, then why in the very next lesson does the Ralbag depict Moshe as thinking he has just started to gain understanding of Hashem and His ways; isn’t that not true?

However, it seems clear, and if one thinks about it, it makes a lot of sense, that no matter how smart one might be, and no matter how holy or close to Hashem a person has attained, it can be levels unfathomable to the normal human mind, still in all, to truly understand Hashem Himself, His ways, intentions and infinite wisdom is so vastly impossible that in fact Moshe was telling the truth when he said he has just started learning and understanding about Hashem and His greatness.

All the more so we have to never be satisfied with our spiritual and mental growth and always strive to gain more heights and reach more levels of understanding Hashem, His ways, and doing His will.