In a Torah reading filled with many important events: e.g., the repetition of the Ten Commandments and the Shema, there is one small passage that is occasionally overlooked: The Torah relates that at that time, Moses set aside three cities in the area of TransJordan to serve as cities of refuge for anyone who accidentally killed another person.

Now the question arises: This act had no immediate purpose. The designation of these cities would not actually take effect until three other cities were set aside in the land of Israel between the Jordan and the Mediterranean and that would not be until several years later. Why then did Moses take the time to make this designation before his death?

Our Sages answer: When a mitzvah comes to your hand, do not postpone its fulfillment. True, Moses knew all the laws and all the significance behind setting aside a city of refuge. But that was all on the intellectual plane. Here he had the chance to take part in the actual fulfillment of the mitzvah. There is nothing higher than that.

The Hebrew term mitzvah (מצוה) relates to the term tzavsa (צוותא), meaning connection or bond. Every mitzvah represents a bond with G‑d, a step above the limits of humanity and a chance to relate to G‑d on His terms. A person can try to relate to G‑d intellectually or emotionally, but then he is conscribed by his thoughts and his feelings. He can go no further than the limits of his mind and heart. And G‑d certainly transcends those limits.

Indeed, since G‑d is infinite and man, finite, one might think that there is no way that one can ever relate to G‑d, because finiteness and infinity are skew lines that will never intersect.

From man’s own perspective, this is true. But the limits mentioned above do not confine G‑d. For His infinity encompasses finiteness as well. He can step into the realm of finiteness and give man a means of bonding with Him.

That’s what mitzvos are. G‑d prescribes a physical deed for man to carry out. True, every one of these deeds has manifold significance, enabling us to refine ourselves and the world at large. But over and above any and all significance, the advantage of a mitzvah is that whena person performs a mitzvah, he or she bonds with G‑d in all His infinity.

For this reason, Moses was eager to perform the mitzvah of setting aside the cities of refuge before his passing. He knew the meaning and significance of all the mitzvos, but he was not interested in the intellectual satisfaction that this knowledge brought him. He wanted the infinite bond that can be achieved only through actually fulfilling the mitzvos. That’s why — on a personal level — he prayed so sincerely to be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael, as related at the beginning of this week’s Torah reading. He wanted the chance to fulfill all the mitzvos whose observance is associated with our Holy Land. When G‑d did not grant his request, he grabbed the opportunity to fulfill whatever mitzvos he could. Therefore, even though his act would have no immediate effect, he set aside the three cities of refuge in TransJordan.

Looking to the Horizon

VaEschanan means “And he prayed,” referring to Moses’ prayer to enter the land of Israel. Now, why did Moses want to enter the land of Israel? At 120 years old, he certainly had concerns other than to visit tourist attractions.

Our Sages say that he desired to perform the mitzvos that were capable of being performed only in the land. That certainly is a valid answer, as explained above, because the bond with G‑d achieved through the observance of the mitzvos surpasses the bond achieved through study and knowledge alone.

But there is a deeper answer and a necessary one, because Moses was not merely concerned with his own spiritual fulfillment. Moses knew that if he were able to enter the land with the people, he would be able to bring about Mashiach’s coming. There would not have been any potential for exile. That’s what he was praying for.

Why didn’t G‑d grant his request? Because G‑d desires that the redemption not be the product of the Divine service of only one or even several righteous man, but of the people as a whole — that every man, woman, and child do his or her part in bringing about Mashiach’s coming.

Mashiach will introduce an age when “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover up the ocean bed.” To anticipate and prepare for that age, the world at large must be filled with G‑dliness. Not only must several righteous men live in a G‑dly manner, but this must be the way of life of the people as a whole.