Parashat V’zot Ha’Bracha
October 24-25, 2016 – 23 Tishrei 5777
Annual: Deuteronomy 33:1 – 34:12 (Etz Hayim, p. 1202; Hertz p. 909)
Genesis 1:1– 2:3 (Etz Hayim, p. 3, Hertz p. 2)
Maftir: Numbers 29:35 – 30:1 (Etz Hayim, p. 936; Hertz p. 698)
Haftarah: Joshua 1:1 – 18 (Etz Hayim, p. 1266; Hertz p. 984)
Ending the Torah – Mission Accomplished?
Dr. Shaiya Rothberg, CY Faculty (Bible, Kabala, Jewish Philosophy and Human Rights)
This week’s Torah portion is the dramatic conclusion of the Five Books of Moses. But it is a curious conclusion. We might have expected that the books would end with a grand finale: the victorious entrance of the children of Israel into the Promised Land. But this only occurs in the Book of Joshua, which is hardly equal to D’varim in its religious significance (more on that below). Why does the Chumash end before we enter the land?
Let’s consider the overarching logic of the Biblical story. We can divide the story into four thematic “chapters”: Creation, Sinai, Zion and the Just World Order. Creation lays out the goals and problems of the Biblical project: it describes God’s purpose in creating the world, chronicles the failure of humanity to live up to it, and (following this particular interpretation) concludes with God’s new strategy in achieving the divine purpose: the establishment of a nation of priests and a holy nation who will push humanity towards the divine ideal. Then comes Sinai which lays out the logic and structure of this catalyst-nation in regard to politics, law and religious service. The blueprint for the nation is laid out in Sh’mot, Vayikra and D’varim.
Following this interpretation, the next thematic “chapter” would be Zion, in which Israel actually enters the land and attempts to turn the ideals of the desert into a real state in the real world. Next is the Just World Order, as envisioned by the prophets (as in Isaiah 2 and 11), in which the justice and piety of God’s Israelite experiment expand to all people across the globe and thus finally achieve God’s plan that all humans realize their potential to reflect Tselem Elohim – the Image of God. (For a similar interpretation, see Sforno’s Introduction to his Commentary on the Chumash).
In light of this fourfold division, it is interesting to note an important theological difference between the literary sources of the first two thematic “chapters” (Creation and Sinai) and the second two “chapters” (Zion and the Just World Order). Classical Jewish theology, as expressed for example in the Eighth Principle of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith (see his commentary to the Mishnah, Sanhedrin, Chapter 10), teaches that every word of the Chumash was dictated by God to Moshe. But the subsequent books (starting with the Book of Joshua) were written by humans describing historical events and what they thought God said to them. In other words, the first two thematic chapters of the Bible, Creation and Sinai, were authored by God, while the second two chapters, Zion and the Just World Order, were authored by human beings.
Thus we see that the blueprint is attributed to God, while the attempt at implementation is attributed to humans. Wielding earthly power requires that humans take responsibility for their interpretations and actions. The divine ideal must remain in the desert, as it were, towards which the wielders of power can reach, but which they cannot own. At the very moment we are about to enter the land, at the end of this week’s Torah portion, the Holy Story beckons us to turn our attention away from practical life, and back to the creation of the world, so that at this critical juncture we reflect once again upon the meaning of Tselem Elohim, which is both the Image of God and our highest purpose.
A Vort for Parashat V’zot Ha’Bracha
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
“And this is the blessing with which Moses, ish ha’elohim – the man of God, blessed the children of Israel lifnei moto – before his death (Deut 33:1). This is the only time the Torah describes Moses as ish ha’elohim and the timing is critical, lifnei moto. Rabbi Yosef Karo says Moses’ blessing is that every Jew should be ish elohim lifnei moto, Godly people when we die, in line with the teaching in Pirkei Avot, “repent the day before you die.” Since post-Talmudic times, the period of Judgment is still considered in effect, Yom Kippur got an “extension” till Hoshana Raba. May we learn from this to cherish every minute and also to be forgiving, as Moses was and God is, each of us blessing their “people,” even though they may have offended us.
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
We did it! Yeshar Koach (well done) to everyone who joined our learning journey this year! We have arrived at the last Parasha of the Torah (it is read on Simchat Torah, not on a Shabbat.) Here we hear Moshe’s blessings/sayings about the tribes, and let Moshe part from us.
1) What title is Moshe introduced by in the opening of the Parasha (33:1)? What do you think that title means?
2) Moshe ‘blesses’ the tribes of Israel. Let’s take a look at his words to the tribe of Levi (33:8-11). According to v. 11, what are the responsibilities of the tribe of Levi? This is written as part of a biblical poem which often creates parallel lines. Try to read the verse so that you can see 2 lines, each containing 2 parts that are parallels.
3) Moshe went up on Mount Nebo (in trans-Jordan) and God showed him the land into which he will enter (34:1-3). What does the Torah tell us that he saw? (On a map you can follow his gaze that starts in the northeast and sweeps panoramically until it returns to Jericho below him.) What thoughts do you think crossed Moshe’s mind as he saw the land?
4) Moshe does not enter the land. He dies on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, in the land of Moab and we do not know his burial place (34:4-6). Who took responsibility for his burial? Why do you think that God does not want us to know where Moshe is buried?
5) We are told that there was never another prophet like Moshe (34:10-12). How does the Torah describe his uniqueness? What do think that means?
Chazak Chazak VeNitchazek!