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To Die For His People

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 10/6/2019

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    To Die For His People

Moshe requests הראני נא את כבודך; show me your glory, to which Hashem responds that one can’t see me and live.[1] Didn’t Moshe know this?


Humility is required in order to be a leader since if one is arrogant he can’t lead the people. A king needs לית מגרמיה כלום; nothing of himself.[2] Consequently, the initials of this phrase spell מלך. מלך is also composed of the same letters as לכם because he is there for you; nothing for himself.


We see this by Dovid Hamelech who possessed humility as it says אנכי תולעת ולא איש; I am a worm, not a man.[3] Similarly, Moshe is called the most humble man.[4] In the secular world, the ones who become the leaders are the ones that desire to. This is in contrast to us where the leaders are the ones who don’t want to become leaders since they don’t feel worthy of the position.[5] The Gemara[6] tells us that in עקבתא דמשיחא, פני הדור כפני הכלב; the face of the generation is like the face of a dog. פני הדור refers to the leaders.[7] A leader must guide with authority and teach right from wrong. However, in the period before, Moshiach the leaders will first check to see if their views are received. This is just as a dog appears that it is leading its owner but when it gets to an intersection it looks back to him to see where to go.[8]


R’ Baruch Ber Liebowitz remarked that a Jewish leader needs to put his life on the line for the Jewish people. This is how the Alshich interprets the opening Pasuk in Ki Sisa כי תשא את ראש בני ישראל לפקדיהם ונתנו איש כפר נפשו- when you appoint a leader let it be one who is Moser Nefesh for the people. In a similar vein, this is how R’ Yitzchak Vorka interprets יפקד ה' אלה-י הרוחת לכל בשר איש על העדה אשר יצא לפניהם-[9] Moshe wanted that Hashem should appoint a leader who is Moser Nefesh for Klal Yisrael. This can be achieved when a leader has the ultimate humility.


Moshe knew that one can’t see Hashem and live. However, the Gemara[10] informs us that the death of a Tzadik atones. This is specifically why Moshe asked הראני נא את כבודך since one can’t see Hashem and live- bringing an atonement for the sin of the[11] Eigel.[12] Hashem’s response: לא יראני האדם וחי; no, because I want you to live.

R’ Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. R’ Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance. 

[1] Shemos 33:18,20

[2] Brought in Siduro Shel Shabbos 2,1,13 in the name of the Tikunai Zohar

[3] Tehillim 22:7

[4] Bamidbar 12:3

[5] See Eruvin 13b, Chullin 89b

[6] Sota 49b

[7] See Breishis Rabba 79:6. See R’ Elchonon Wasserman who quotes the Chofetz Chaim in Kuntres Ikvos Meshicha.

[8] R’ Elchonon Wasserman in Kovetz Maamarim V’Agados, p 285. There is a saying, “Once special people were famous. Today famous people are special.”

[9] Bamidbar 27:16

[10] Moed Katan 28a

[11] The first Knasiya Gedola was held in 1923 in Vienna by Agudas Yisrael. The Imrei Emes sent R’ Meir Don Plotzky, author of the Kli Chemda (He also wrote the Chemdas Yisrael which is on the Sefer Hamitzvos of the Rambam as well as שאלו שלום ירושלים which is a pamphlet on the forged Yerushalmi on Kodshim where someone claimed he found a Yerushalmi on Kodshim.) to escort the Chofetz Chaim on to Vienna on the way from Radin. When the train stopped at different stations, people would come to the train station in order to get a look at the Chofetz Chaim. However, the Chofetz Chaim refused to go to the window. When the Kli Chemda asked him why he declined, the Chofetz Chaim told him that from the honor and pleasure he would receive, it would diminish his עולם הבא (See Sefer Chassidim 84). The Kli Chemda responded: “For two reasons, you should let them see you. One is because it is worth it to lose a portion of the next world to give pleasure to Jews. The second reason is…” The Chofetz Chaim interjected and said I don’t need a second reason. He then went to the window.

[12] On the words וימהר משה ויקד ארצה וישתחו; Moshe hurried to bow his head toward the ground and prostrate himself (Shemos 34:8), which comes after the thirteen attributes of mercy, we are taught that Moshe hurried to bow so that Hashem shouldn’t say על חמשים; recalling iniquity of parents until the fifth generation (see 34:7 where it says until the third and fourth generations). The Ibn Ezra (to Shemos 34:8) is bothered that if this is the case then Moshe was liable to death (חייב מיתה) since he interrupted Hashem while He was talking? The Chassam Sofer (על התורה, Korach, s.v. first בקר וידע) brings an incredible answer from the Ramban: Indeed, Moshe was Moser Nefesh before Hashem- because of his אהבת ישראל; love for the Jewish people. He was willing to die for the Jewish people in order to save them from punishment one generation less!

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