Parashas Vezos HaBerachah – The Greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu
This week we complete the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah with Parashas Vezos HaBerachah, which is therefore always read on Simchas Torah. There is never an end to our toils in Torah however, and to symbolise this we begin reading the Torah again, anew, with Parashas Bereishis following on from this final sedra of the book of Devarim. In addition to the celebrations which occur on Simchas Torah where we dance with the Torah scrolls and sing with joy, every male present is called to the Torah and the sedra is therefore read repeatedly until everyone has received an aliyah... hence why being in the largest shul in Jerusalem last year with potentially the biggest minyan in the city, probably wasn't the smartest of ideas. This final sedra is comprised of just two pereks, one dedicated to Moshe's final words to the nation, with his blessings for each of the tribes, and the other chapter focusing on the death of Moshe with some final words given in the concluding possukim about the quality of Moshe and his prophecy .

The Midrash teaches us that Moshe blessed the tribes, just before his death, in order to maintain the tradition started by Yaakov when he blessed his sons before he died (in Parashas Vayechi). Before Moshe introduces his blessings, however, the Torah states... “And this is the blessing that Moshe, the man of G-d, bestowed upon the Children of Israel before his death” [33:1]. In his commentary, the Or HaChaim questions why the Torah needs to give this brief introduction. As we know, the Torah doesn't waste words so surely we would know that Moshe was the one doing the blessing here, and by the names given of the tribes in the actual blessings, we could assume he was blessing the Children of Israel as well? Afterall, who else would he be blessing? And if you want to say that the Torah is informing us that Moshe was close to death, through these words, then this could easily be retracted because at the end of the last sedra, Parashas Haazinu, the Torah told us that... “Hashem spoke to Moshe on that very day... (saying) die on the mountain where you will ascend” [32:48-50]; so we are therefore well aware that this is now Moshe's last day before his ascent and death. So what is going on with these apparently redundant words and what is their purpose? The Or HaChaim explains that the answer lies in the first word of the Parasha, “וזאת/vezos” … “and this”... the reason the Torah uses the word “and” to start off this small introduction is because these words are going on previous events which occurred. If we backtrack to the previous possuk in Parashas Haazinu we will see that Hashem has just told Moshe that “for a distance shall you see the Land, but you shall not enter there, into the Land that I give to the Children of Israel” [32:52]... and what was the reason that Moshe was unable to enter? ...Because of the striking of the rock in the Wilderness of Zin, an event which was provoked by the nation's complaints in the Midbar. Moshe was therefore in a position whereby he was told to stand and look over the land he had longed to enter since the exodus from Egypt, but he wasn't allowed to enter due to the nation's rebellious behaviour leading him to breaking point in the desert. The mefarshim describe how 'Moshe worked for Israel like a horse but they rebelled and cost him his portion in Israel'. Any natural human reaction to this would be to bear a grudge against the people who had caused such distress and to hold feelings of hatred towards them due to them being the catalyst for the prevention of him doing what he wanted most, to enter Israel... But not Moshe! Irrespective of all this and the timing of his death, the Torah is telling us that... “וזאת/vezos”... THIS is the blessing that Moshe bestowed upon the people. Regardless of the fact that Moshe was in this fateful position due to their misbehaviour, he still loved his nation and blessed them wholeheartedly. From this opening introduction we therefore see the greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu and what an extraordinary Tzaddik he was. We also learn mussar from this that no matter what happens in life we must too act as Tzaddikim, regardless of how people treat us or the consequences of their actions. Although there will never be a prophet with the same level of prophecy as Moshe Rabbeinu again, Rambam teaches us in Hilchos Teshuvah that everyone has the ability to reach his level of righteousness. He goes on to explain how Moshe wasn't born with these attributes, he worked on them and through his yiras Hashem he was able to achieve such greatness. We must strive to be able to react the same way in similarly testing situations.

According to the Ibn Ezra, Moshe's blessings were inspired by Hashem, with the title “איש האלקים/ ish ha'elokim”... which translates as “the man of G-d”, being used to describe him. Ramban therefore comments here that these blessings would certainly be fulfilled with the big man above overseeing them personally. Ramban also notes that these blessings would be brought about through the study and observance of the Torah which is implied with the use of the word “וזאת/vezos” in the introduction to this week's sedra, which also happened to be the same word used all the way back in Parashas Vaeschanan when Moshe began his summation of the Torah.

At face value the order in which Moshe blesses the tribes seems to be rather random with him starting with the eldest son Reuven but then following a seemingly haphazard path through the tribes and most peculiarly, missing out the tribe of Shimon along the way. There is also a machlokes amongst the mefarshim as to why Moshe chose this order with the Ibn Ezra claiming that Reuven was chosen first due to him being the eldest son but Ramban insisting that Moshe blessed all the tribes in the order in which they would conquer their portions of Land and settle there... and as Reuven took up residence on the East Bank of the Jordan, he would receive his portion first and was therefore accordingly blessed first. Other mefarshim seem to imply that the order was down to the importance of the tribe and their land, with Rashi claiming that the tribe of Levi was blessed second due to them serving in the Beis HaMikdash, with Binyamin the next in line for a blessing due to the temple being located in their portion of land. This view also flows nicely with the succeeding tribe to be blessed, that of Yoseph's, since the Tabernacle at Shiloh was in the land of Yoseph's offspring, Ephraim, for over two hundred years and his portion was therefore quite the prestigious one. A final interesting point to note about the order of Moshe's blessings is that Zevulun is blessed before Issachar which was the same decision made by Yaakov when he blessed his sons, even though Issachar was the older brother. These two tribes had a unique and successful relationship whereby Zevulun engaged in maritime commerce (their portion had access to both the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee) and used the income to support Issachar who devoted his time to Torah study. The tribe of Zevulun was therefore given precedence with the blessings, as Issachar's learning was only made possible by them. Sforno highlights this point by bringing down a possuk from Avos which states that, “if there is no flour, there is no Torah” [3:17]. We see from this relationship that one cannot engage in Torah study without material necessities and the support of Torah is therefore extremely important with the tithes given to the Kohanim and Levim back in the days of the Beis HaMikdash a prime example of this concept. The reward for providing towards Torah is such that the blessing of those supporting it proceeds the tribe who would actually be doing the learning! Examples of this partnership can be found today with many wealthy people supporting Torah scholars and even drawing up a formal contract providing that the merit of the Torah study would be shared by both.

It is also very important to note here that I am both a Yeshiva bochur and a Levi... and accept credit cards... So you can't really go wrong... :-)

I wish everyone a Shabbat Shalom and Chag Somayach! Chatzlacha Rabba for the week ahead.

Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshivah, Jerusalem)

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