Jewish Identity – In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem Dovid ben Harav Yosef Z’L)
The Midrash Rabba (Compilation of Jewish Homiletic 400 – 600; Devarim Rabba 2:8) comments that Moses was banned from entering the land of Israel because he did not sanctify G-ds name at the quarrelsome waters (Numbers 20:12). But, the Midrash asks, why wasn't Moses buried in Israel?
The Midrash answers itself by pointing to the contrast between Joseph and Moses.
After Moses killed an Egyptian officer in defense of his fellow Jew, he fled Pharaoh’s palace and became a fugitive wandering the outskirts of Midian. There, he rescued Yisro’s daughters who were being abused by the other shepherds as they tried to water their flock. (Bereishit Rabba 70:9)
When Yisro's daughters told their father what happened, they said, “an Egyptian man saved us from the shepherds, and he even drew water for us and watered the sheep.” (Exodus 2:19)
Yisro’s daughters identified Moses as an Egyptian.
By contrast, when Joseph was framed for acting promiscuously with his master's wife, she said, “Look, he brought us a Hebrew man to sport with us, He came to lie with me, but I called out with a loud voice.” (Genesis 39:14) Joseph was identified as a Hebrew.
Joseph was ultimately buried in Israel. Moses, who neglected to correct Yisro's daughters, was denied the honor of being buried in the Holy Land.
Moses taught us the Torah, led us through the desert, spoke with G-d face to face, and always prayed for us. Is the Midrash actually telling us that Moses wasn’t buried in Israel because he neglected to correct Yisro’s daughters who mistook him for an Egyptian? Apparently so.
How a person is introduced, even casually, is a definitive statement of who he is.