Moshe seems to have done something which was totally unnecessary. In Parshat Va’etchanan we are told (Devarim 4:41),
“Az yavdil moshe shalosh arim.”
Just before he was to pass away, Moshe, who was on the eastern side of the river Jordan because he couldn’t enter into the Holy Land, separated off three cities there.
Of course, two and a half tribes were to be dwelling there, and these three cities were separated to be ‘arei miklat’ – cities of refuge, in order that any person guilty of manslaughter could flee there for the sake of their protection.
Now Moshe knew that these cities would only become active once three additional cities were inaugurated for this purpose in the Holy Land itself, which would not happen until well after his death, so why did he do this? It seemed to be for no purpose whatsoever.
The Kli Yakar explains that the key to understanding this is the very first word ‘az’. “Az yavdil moshe,” – “Then Moshe separated.”
He was inspired to do this because of something which had happened just before. So let’s look at the previous verse. There Moshe reminds the people of how Hashem instructed them to keep the word of Hashem (Devarim 4:40),
“asher yitav lecha ulevanecha achereicha,” – “in order that it should be good for you and for your children after you.”
You see it was there that Hashem told him that we should do what is responsible in life not just for our own sake – it’s also for the sake of our children and future generations who will come after us. That is what inspired Moshe to recognise that even though he personally, and those around him, were not going to benefit from the setting aside of the cities, it was his responsibility to start to do this for the sake of those who would be living thereafter.
We have here a powerful Torah message about our purpose in life. We’re not just here for our own sakes and those around us. We are here to invest responsibly in the future of our earth. That is why, when placing man in this world, Hashem said to us, “l’ovda uleshomra,” – ‘l’ovda’ – you must work in this world, you must be productive and creative, but at the same time, ‘uleshomra’ – you must guard and protect it.
This is so very relevant for us right now with regard to climate change. Until quite recently many people just weren’t taking the whole issue of climate change seriously but now it is abundantly clear to us all that in just 50-100 years’ time, the very lives of our grandchildren and great grandchildren could be endangered unless we act now for the sake of our environment.
Let us therefore take a leaf out of the book of Moshe to guarantee that what we do now will be the right thing not just for us but also for the generations to come.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis