Parashat Vaethanan begins with Moshe recalling the impassioned prayer he prayed asking God to allow him to cross into Eretz Yisrael. God had decreed that Moshe would die across the Jordan River and not enter the Land of Israel together with the rest of the nation. Moshe prayed that the decree be annulled, but God declined his request. Our Sages teach that Moshe actually recited 515 prayers begging for permission to enter Eretz Yisrael, and God still denied his request. Instead, He told Moshe that he should climb to the mountaintop overlooking Eretz Yisrael and take a good look at the special land which God would be giving to Beneh Yisrael.
At first glance, God’s response to Moshe seems harsh, if not cruel. God of course had His reasons for denying Moshe’s request, but why did He then instruct Moshe to gaze into the land? Wasn’t this just a “tease”? Imagine after fasting an entire day somebody comes along and places a delicious, fresh pastry right in front of our eyes, and tells us we can only look at it. Wouldn’t that be cruel? What purpose was there for Moshe to look into the land in which he so desperately wanted to live?
There is a concept in Judaism that a person can be credited for a Misva which he does not actually perform. If somebody truly wishes to do a certain Misva, but circumstances do not allow him to do so, he receives credit as though he performed that Misva. In light of the practical barrier that prevents him from doing the Misva, his sincere desire to fulfill the Misva suffices, and he is regarded as actually having done it.
The Gemara teaches that Moshe yearned to enter Eretz Yisrael not to enjoy its material benefits, but to fulfill the special Misvot that can be performed only there. And this might explain why God told Moshe to look into the land. Gazing into Eretz Yisrael would increase Moshe’s desire to go there and fulfill the Misvot. God wanted Moshe to feel such a genuine longing for the Misvot of Eretz Yisrael that he would be credited with having done them, even though he would not be entering the land. This was not cruel; to the contrary, it was to Moshe’s benefit.
It occasionally happens that a person is about to leave for an important Misva – such as Minyan, a Shiur, to help a friend, or to help out in a community event – and then something unexpected comes up. Maybe the car doesn’t start, an urgent problem came up in the office, something breaks at home, etc. A person can nevertheless be credited with the Misva if he or she genuinely feels disappointed. If we truly wish we could do the Misva, then we receive the credit even if practically it does not work out.
When it comes to Misvot, attitude matters at least as much as the bottom-line performance. What’s important is not just how much we accomplish, but how much we want and try to accomplish. And this desire comes from an appreciation of the inestimable value of Misvot, a realization of just how precious each and every Misva is. If we bear in mind the worth and significance of every Misva, then we will be sincerely driven to accomplish more – and we will then be credited even for the Misvot we are unable to perform.