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V'Zot HaBracha(Deuteronomy 33-34)

The Special Reading for Simchat Torah Includes Moses' Blessing to Each Tribe

"My business is fine fabrics, and I intend to make a big profit from this trip," proclaimed Marc.

"My business is gold vessels and the market is much more lucrative," replied Jacob.

"You're both amateurs compared to my business, ladies' jewelry," called out Bob.

The merchants were at sea en route to the markets of the Far East. At that moment, a rabbi with a long beard passed by. "What is your line of merchandise, rabbi?" taunted the merchants in unison.

"My merchandise is more valuable than all of yours put together," replied the rabbi to the guffaws of the crowd.

Just then a terrible storm erupted at sea and quickly engulfed the ship. The terrified sailors threw all their movable objects overboard and the merchants barely had the time to moan over their lost profits. With great difficulty the sailors heaved and hoed and somehow managed an emergency landing on shore. The passengers were lucky to get out with their lives and the clothes on their backs!

Having no other choice, they immediately set out by foot to the closest port city. After 3 days of walking, with their shoes and clothes in tatters, they finally reached their destination. The erstwhile merchants, having no other option, turned to begging for food to survive.

The rabbi on the other hand, made his way to the closest Yeshiva and requested permission to deliver a talmudic discourse. The students were astounded by his brilliant analysis and insights. Inquiring about his tattered clothing, he told them of the shipwreck. Immediately he was presented with a new set of clothes and was appointed as their dean!

As he was walking with his new disciples, they passed the begging merchants, who were shocked to see his situation was so much better than theirs. "I told you that my merchandise is worth more than all of yours! It can never be lost!" Thus was born the famous Jewish lullaby, "Torah is the best s'chora (merchandise)." These are the words that countless Jewish mothers have sung to their infants, demonstrating the reverence that our nation holds for Torah scholarship.

In Parshat V'Zot Habracha, we are reminded, "The Torah that was commanded by Moses; it is an inheritance to the congregation of Jacob" (Deut.33:4). The final farewell of Moses is the Torah that he taught us.

The Parsha begins with a perspective of the revelation at Sinai, the essence of the Torah, and the blessing Moses gave each tribe individually and all the people collectively. The book ends with the death of Moses.

* * *

LAW OF FIRE

"God approached Sinai after making His appeal at Se'ir (the home of Esav) and Paran (the home of Ishmael), on His right side a Law of Fire" (Deut. 33:2).

The Midrash explains that God first approached all the nations of the world and offered them the Torah. "What does it say?" they asked. (We don't sign blank checks!) When God told them what was in the Torah, they declined to accept it.

Actually, their initial question ("What does it say?") was in itself a rejection. ("Do you want absolute truth?" "Uhhh... it depends?!")

By contrast, when the Jewish people were offered the Torah, they replied, "We will fulfill it, and try our best to understand." When you trust the doctor, you take the medicine!

The essence of Torah is white fire on black fire, which contains the deep kabalistic secrets of the universe. God was able to condense and contract the infinite essence of the Torah into the finite form that we have and study.

* * *

MOSES BLESSES THE TRIBES

Reuven: "May Reuven live and not die" (Deut. 33:6). Even though the tribe of Reuven fought in the vanguard before the people, they had no casualties during 7 years of conquest followed by 7 years of division of the land. When they returned to their families, they were all intact and alive! (Nachmanides)

Yehudah: "Hear his voice and return him unto his people. May his hand be strong and assist him with his enemies" (Deut. 33:7). The simple meaning is that Yehudah - as the future king of Israel - should be blessed with physical strength to fight his enemies.

The rabbis explain that this metaphorically refers to the battle to understand the Torah. In the "World to Come," he who struggles in Torah will be victorious over his enemies.

Levi: (Deut. 33:8) The Urim V'tumim was a special Kabbalistic parchment that was inserted into the breastplate of the High Priest, which gave it special powers. (see Parshat Tetzaveh)

"He told his parents that he does not see them; his brother he doesn't recognize, his sons he does not know; for they kept God's word, and were guards of His covenant" (Deut. 33:9). This refers to the aftermath of the Golden Calf (Parshat Ki Tisa) when the Levites put to death all those who worshiped the calf overtly. Even if it was his father, brother or son, he still killed them.

Question: How could it be his father, brother, or son if the entire tribe of Levi didn't worship the calf?

Answer: It is referring to his maternal grandfather, his half-brother from the same mother, or his grandson from his daughter, who were not necessarily from the tribe of Levi. If it happened that they worshiped the calf, the Levites would put them to death with no hesitation.

Benjamin: "The beloved of God, He dwells in security upon him" (Deut. 33:12). This refers to the Temple that was built on the territory of Benjamin (and also Judah). Benjamin had this merit because he was the only tribe that didn't bow down to Esav (see Gen. 33:6), because he wasn't born at the time. Many hundreds of years later in the Book of Esther, Mordechai also refused to bow down to Haman, citing this precedent.

Joseph: Joseph received a blessing for fertile land. In Egypt, Joseph had succeeded in growing spiritually in an opulent society (Pharaoh's palace), so he was able to enjoy physical bounty and still stress the spiritual. He was the "crown of his brothers" (Deut. 33:16), rising above them spiritually, and was blessed with the strength of an ox and the beauty of an antelope.

Yissachar and Zevulun: This is the first Torah-study partnership. Yissachar studied Torah full time, while Zevulun had merchant vessels and traded with other lands. He supported his brother and they divided both the material and spiritual the profits 50/50.

In this world, Yissachar has the greater benefit. But when they go to the next world, "rejoice Zevulun when you take your leave (to the world to come) and Yissachar in your tents (of Torah in this world)" (Deut. 33:18).

The nations who do commerce with Zevulun were so impressed by his honesty and the unity of the Jewish people, that many of them brought sacrifices to the Holy Temple (Deut. 33:19) and converted to Judaism.

Gad: This tribe wanted their inheritance on the other side of the Jordan, ostensibly because of their many flocks of sheep. Here, the Torah reveals their true reason: "There was buried the lawgiver" (Deut. 33:21). Gad desired to live near the tomb of Moses, so that when the dead are resurrected he will lead them into the land!

The Final Blessing: "No one compares to the Lord of Israel (called Yeshurin, the just ones)" (Deut: 33:26). "Israel will dwell in security, separate from the nations, in a fertile land" (Deut. 33:28). This is the ideal condition for the nation. "Happy are you Israel, who is like unto you" (33:29). Rashi explains, "In short, all of the blessings are yours!"

Denial of the Nations: "Your enemies will deny unto you" (Deut. 33:29). The time will come when Jewish ideals will shine forth so victoriously throughout the world, that the Jews' enemies will deny their past opposition. All the pain and suffering will be forgotten. They'll say: "Of course we love the Jewish people and everything they have taught us!" (Rabbi S.R. Hirsch)

* * *

FIRST GUIDED TOUR

Moses ascends Mount Nevo and receives the first guided tour of the Holy Land. "God showed him the whole land...until the last sea" (Deut. 34:2).

The rabbis explain he words "until the last day" means that Moses was shown prophetically the future events of Joshua leading the conquest of the land, as well as the destruction of the first Holy Temple, Ezra leading the Jews back to the land, and the destruction of the second Holy Temple, plus all the comings and goings of the Jews in the land, until the last day when the Moshiach will bring Jews from four corners of the earth, home to Israel.

* * *

THE DEATH OF MOSES

"And Moses died there, the servant of God" (Deut. 34:5). The only epitaph the Torah uses for Moses is "servant of the Almighty" The rabbis say that whatever a servant acquires belongs to the master. Moses is the embodiment of his master.

"And He buried him" (34:6). God buried Moses. "And no one knows where he was buried, until today." The rabbis point out that the Torah begins with kindness (God made clothes for Adam and Eve), and ends with kindness, as God buries Moses and becomes a member of the Chevra Kadishah (burial society). This teaches us that the purpose of the entire Torah is to learn the ways of emulating God's kindness.

Question: Who wrote the last section of the Torah? How could Moses have written about his own death?

Answer #1: Joshua filled in the last 8 verses.

Answer #2: Moses wrote exactly God dictated: "Write and Moses died." Moses wrote with tears in his eyes, and some even say he used the tears instead of ink!

* * *

THE GREATEST PROPHET

"No prophet ever arose again in Israel like Moses" (Deut. 34:10). Since Moses gave us the Torah, he had to be the greatest prophet. And in case anyone ever claims that God changed his mind, he must be as great as Moses!

The Torah makes 3 points about Moses' prophecy: (Deut. 34:10-12)

  1. Moses knew God face-to-face.

  2. Moses performed wonders in Egypt.

  3. All of this happened before the eyes of all Israel. This seals the Torah, and to change the law one must perform open miracles before the eyes of all of Israel, not just before a handful of witnesses. (Rabbi Hirsch)

* * *

THE SOUL OF MOSES

According to the Midrash, the soul of Moses did not zoom to heaven as most souls do when death comes. When God came to receive Moses' soul, it refused to leave Moses' body. "I have a special place for you in the highest heaven, right next to My holy throne!"

Yet the soul of Moses refused, arguing that Moses had purified his body to such an extent. "What place in heaven could be more holy than the body of Moses!"

* * *

CONNECTION BETWEEN THE END AND BEGINNING OF THE TORAH

The Torah ends with the words, "Before the entire population of Israel." After reading this on Simchat Torah, we continue with Genesis, which begins "In the beginning God created heaven and earth."

In whose merit did God create the World? In the merit of Israel, who received the Torah and taught it to the world. This connects the first and last verses of the Torah. The Jewish people are responsible for morality in the world, and the world owes its existence to the Jewish people.

Chazak Chazak Venit'chazek!

Published: October 3, 2006

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