Deuteronomy 33:1 to 34:12
The last chapters of Torah relate Moses’ blessing to the people and tell of his death.
(Picture to right -Simhat Torah Flag – France, 1930)
This week we are celebrating Sukkot. During this seven day celebration, each day has its own reading. The text for Saturday, October 22 is Deuteronomy 14:22 to 16:17. Rather than commenting on this text, I would like to focus on the last parsha of Torah –V’zotHab’racha. A look at the calendar shows that this parsha is not included in the weekly schedule. However, the last few verses of the text are read on Simhat Torah when we read the ending and beginning verses of Torah.
V’zot Hab’rachah presents the blessing Moses gives the people before his death. Then, the text relates the death of Moses at age 120.
Moses concludes his blessing words of optimism:
O Jeshurun, there is none like God,
Riding through the heavens to help you,
Through the skies In His majesty,
The Ancient God is a refuge,
A support are the arms everlasting.
He drove out the enemy before you
By His command: Destroy!
Thus Israel dwells in safety,
Untroubled is Jacob’s abode,
In a land of grain and wine,
Under heavens dripping dew.
O happy Israel! Who is like you,
A people delivered by Naiad,
Your protecting Shield, your Sword triumphant!
Your enemies shall come cringing before you,
/And you shall tread on their backs. (Neut. 33:26-29)
In many ways these words apply as much today as they did when Moses spoke them.
These are the words of Moses…. Moses who is called “the man of God” in the opening line of this week’s text. (33:1) And when he dies, the text refers to him as “the servant of the Eternal” (Deut. 34:5) All through four of the five books of Torah, Moses delivers the words, ideas, laws, and commandments of God to the people. The Israelite come to understand God through the words of Moses. It is no wonder that the Torah itself states: “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses – whom the Eternal singled out, face to face, for the various signs and portents that the Eternal sent him to display in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and his whole country, and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel.” (Deut. 34:10-12)
The ideas and concepts may have come from the Eternal. But the words were the words of Moses… The leadership on the forty year journey to freedom and independence was that of Moses. Moses taught the Israelites and all the succeeding generations of Hebrews the words of God … including ours and the generations of our children, and their children. It may be the greatest compliment to this great man that the book that tells the story of Israels beginnings is call Torat Mosheh … The Five Books of Moses.
Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (13th Century) – better know as Gersonides or the abbreviated Ralbag – stated: “It is indeed a very strange phenomenon that as much as the Torah took great pains to describe the exact location of Moses’ grave: ‘in the Land of Moab, in the valley, over against Beth Peor,’ in spite of all this, the Holy One blessed be He so devised it that no man knoweth of his burial place, so that generations to come should not go astray and worship his as a deity.” (Quoted from Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Devanagari/Deuteronomy, p.374)
This was the man – or legend – Moses.
And, as we always do at the close of a book of Torah, we say: Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazek! Be strong, be strong, and we shall be strong! We shall continue to study the words of Moses… individually we will gain strength… then we will study together and we will be stronger – together.