This week is the final blessing Moshe gives to the nation, the “stiff-necked people” he had to deal with for over 40 years. He has the strength and the desire to measure a blessing a tribe each with its unique characteristics.
Finally, he gives out one for everyone:
כח וַיִּשְׁכֹּן יִשְׂרָאֵל בֶּטַח בָּדָד עֵין יַעֲקֹב, אֶל-אֶרֶץ דָּגָן וְתִירוֹשׁ; אַף-שָׁמָיו, יַעַרְפוּ טָל.
|28 And Israel dwelleth in safety, the fountain of Jacob alone, in a land of corn and wine; yea, his heavens drop down dew.|
|29 Happy art thou, O Israel, who is like unto thee? a people saved by the LORD, the shield of thy help, and that is the sword of thy excellency! And thine enemies shall dwindle away before thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places.|
However, right after this, we read:
ה וַיָּמָת שָׁם מֹשֶׁה עֶבֶד-יְהוָה, בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹאָב–עַל-פִּי יְהוָה.
|5 So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD.|
Every time I read this, I cannot seem to comprehend the power of that man, yes, prophet, of course, but a human being still. Looking at the land of my dreams from afar, not being able to live there at least for now, I often think about Moses who could only see it from a distance, albeit with a glance of the full vision of the future. The tension, the earning, the pain must have been unbearable.
And yet – life must go on. Even without a great leader. Jewish people at that moment would have to own their mistakes and learn to earn their own forgiveness. A new era begins for them, just like it begins for us with every new year. Every year we earn the right to prove that we can be better than we were last year, the right to own our mistakes and to pay for them anew. May we have not too many of them.
“He became King over Y’shurun when the numbers of the nation gathered–the tribes of Israel in unity.” (Deuteronomy 33:5)
V’zot Ha’bracha, the last parashah, or portion, in the Torah, is read only on Simchat Torah. It comprises two sections: Moses’ final blessing of the Israelites and the description of his death. Moses’ blessing of the tribes evokes Jacob’s deathbed scene (Gen. 49:1-28), with two important differences: Jacob’s sons have become large and mighty tribes, and Moses’ words contain no criticism nor hint of inter-tribal rivalry.
V’zot Ha’bracha prefaces the blessings with the well-known phrase, “The Torah Moses commanded us is the morasha, or heritage, of k’hilat ya-akov, the community of Jacob.” (Deut. 33:4) Morasha, heritage, is one of two words often applied to the Torah; the other is nachala, inheritance. Its use here is a statement of inclusion and pluralism. An inheritance belongs to the heirs to do with as they see fit. A heritage, however, belongs to all generations past and future; the current generation only holds it in trust, which brings certain obligations.
The Babylonian Talmud engages in some wordplay, reading morasha as m’orsa (sh and s are the same letterform in Hebrew), or married (Pesachim 49b). This makes the Torah and the Jewish people a married couple, and means everyone, rich or poor, observant or not, has an equal share in the Torah. No one segment of the community can claim ownership of the Torah. Nachmanides (1194-1270; Spanish Talmudist, Kabbalist, and commentator) interprets k’hilat ya-akov, the community of Jacob, to imply the Torah belongs not only to those born Jewish but also to any who casts their lot with the Jewish people. Moses’ final blessing, then, is a reminder the Torah binds us together as a people in both time and place.