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A Time Without

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Death is part of life, and Jewish law provides guidelines both for dealing with death and for avoiding the spiritual diminution associated with death. When a person mourns another’s death, that person’s soul is deeply affected. During the 22 years that Jacob mourned the death of Joseph (who was not actually dead), it is said that he had no ruach hakodesh, Divine inspiration.

The departure of ruach hakodesh during a time of mourning is not unique to Jacob. Most of the Biblical narrative of the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness occurs either during the first or the last few years. The truth is that the Children of Israel spent most of their time in the wilderness waiting for the generation that came out of Egypt to pass away. Rather than believing that God would fulfill His promise and bring them to the Promised Land, the first generation was convinced that they could not conquer the inhabitants of the land.

During the episode of the scouts, when the generation that left Israel refused to go into the promised land (Numbers 13), God declared that all males over the age of 20 (with a few individual exceptions) would not enter the promised land. In this way, God ensured that the Israelites who would conquer the Promise Land would be those who had been born in freedom and who had spent their entire lives (or at least the vast majority of their lives) respecting the Torah’s laws.

As the leader of the Israelites, Moses was emotionally affected by the fact that the first generation out of Egypt rebelled against God. Because he was their leader, he mourned the deaths that followed, and so the sages note that “as long as the generation of the wilderness continued to die, there was no [direct] Divine communication to Moses, as it is said (Deuteronomy 2:16-17), ‘So it came to pass, when all the men of war were consumed and dead … that the Lord spake unto me.’ [Only then] came the Divine communication ‘unto me’ (Ta’anit 30b).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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