In this, the last weekly reading in Torah, Moses meets with God for the last time. Then, we read of Moses’ death and remember him as the greatest prophet that has ever lived.
This parsha marks the end … the last parsha of Deuteronomy – the last parsha of Torah – the end of the Israelites journey to the Promised Land … and the death of Moses.
In his address to Congress last week, Pope Francis named only one biblical figure in his speech – Moses. Following are the words of Pope Francis where he highlights Moses’ role as giver of the laws … and leader of the people.
“Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you (the members of Congress) have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.
“Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.”
Looking back at the life of Moses as recorded in Torah, Moses appears to be a lonely leader. He leads the Israelite nation for over forty years. This leadership, and the problems it creates, are always his responsibility. However, unlike any leader throughout the rest of history, Moses does have a close, personal ally …. God. There seems to be a direct friendship between Moses and the Eternal. Moses first meets God in the desert while he is alone. God commands him to become his emissary to both the Hebrew nation and the leaders of Egypt…. Later, alone for forty days, Moses meets with the Eternal to receive both a new covenant and the laws that will define the Israelite people…. Then, Moses takes on the awesome responsibility of leading an undeveloped nation toward a sacred future. During this forty year journey Moses is in constant communication with the Eternal receiving instructions, asking for divine assistance, and at times arguing with God in behalf of the people he is leading.
Although Moses is married with children when he first encounters God, during his leadership he seems to have less and less contact with his family. Near the end of his journey, his family is not even mentioned. Moses does rely on the assistance of his brother, Aaron, and sister, Miriam… but, mostly his chief confidant is the Eternal.
Even in death, Moses is without any other human companionship. “Moses went up the steppes of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the summit of Pisgah, opposite Jericho, and the Eternal showed him the land…. And the Eternal said to him, ‘This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross there.’ “
So, the servant of the Eternal, died there in the land of Moab, at the command of the Eternal. [God] buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, near Beth peor; and no one knows his burial place to this day…. Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses – whom the Eternal singled out, face to face…” (Deut. 34:1-10)
In this passage Moses is described in two ways that relate his greatest contributions: First, “Moses the servant of the Eternal” Throughout his long relationship with the Eternal, he spoke the words.laws. and instructions of God to the people….. The second descriptive title – prophet … “Never again did there arise in Israel a Prophet like Moses.”
In addition to delivering the words of God to the people during the long journey, at the end of his life – also the end of the journey – Moses delivers three powerful discourses to the people. These messages acted to shape the future of the Israelite/Jewish people.
Modern scholars have questioned whether the character of Moses existed or was just a myth that presented the word of the Eternal to the people. Either way, whether the story of Moses was real or a myth that grew out of the thoughts and insights of over a thousand years of cultural wisdom…. The words presented in Torah serve as a foundation for a world sought by, not only the Jewish peoples, but many other peoples of the world.
Looking back at the Book of Deuteronomy, we see that these words of this book are telling the Israelites – and us – to learn and follow the ways of God. What better way to achieve this goal than to read and study Torah together. But, before we begin the cycle of Torah readings again, we celebrate the completion of another book of Torah by reciting: CHAZAK, CHAZAK, VINETCHZAK. From strength to strength, we strengthen each other. (and isn’t that what Torah study is all about?)