Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Moshe's view

Last year in September I flew from the US to Israel. For some reason, the plane took an unusual flight path, which let me see a huge part of Israel from "above". Unable to photograph the view, I later recreated it in Google Earth.

This experience reminded me of several verses (Devarim 34:1-4) in parshat Vezot Habracha:
Moshe went up from the plains of Moav to Mount Nevo, the top of the peak which is above Jericho, and Hashem showed him the whole land: the Gilead up to Dan; all of Naftali; the land of Efraim and Menashe; all the land of Yehudah, up to the Mediterranean Sea; the Negev; and the plain, the valley of Jericho, the city of palms, up to Tzoar. Hashem said to him: "This is the land I promised to Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov saying 'To your offspring I shall give it'; I have shown it to your eye, but you shall not go there."

The areas listed here trace a rough counterclockwise circle, tracing the mountains which surround the Jordan River valley:

It is as if Moshe was scanning his eyes across the incredible view from Mount Nevo, trying to imprint it all into his mind in this last opportunity before he died.

It is the same thing I did from the airplane. The difference being that shortly afterwards, I landed in Israel and have been here ever since. It should be humbling to realize that while I was shown the land just like Moshe was, unlike Moshe I had the opportunity to enter it.

The flight also brought me to more philosophical thinking. From the airplane, I could see everything that happened in Israel, limited only by roofs and the focusing ability of my eyes. And a person on the ground, unless armed with modern weaponry, could not do anything to harm me. It seemed clear to me that the common idea of God being "above" us, in the “heavens”, is in large part a visualization of the ideas of omniscience and omnipotence.

Of course, there was one difference between my "omniscience", in the airplane, and God's. There are skyscrapers in Tel Aviv that when you see them from the ground, even from a distance, they never fail to impress you. From the plane, though, the same skyscrapers barely stood out from their surroundings. This seems like an inherent problem with such "omniscience": the more I saw, the less I was able to examine each thing I saw. God, being infinite, has no such limitation to his omniscience. God is no more impressed by the skyscrapers than I was, but having better "eyesight", is still capable of discerning all of their details.

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