The Blessings Continue
Sukkot (Leviticus 22:26-23:44 )
In this, the closing parashah of the Five Books of the Torah, Moses continues the tradition of the Patriarch Jacob and blesses each tribe. Even as the Patriarch commenced his blessing with the word "Zos - this," so, too, does Moses imparts his blessing with the word "Zos." Even as the Patriarch Jacob's blessing spoke to each tribe individually and charged each with his unique mission, so, too, did Moses speak to each tribe to define its special role and the contribution it was to make to the greater mosaic of the Jewish people.
It is a blessing to have someone help you define your purpose in life and delineate the contributions that you can make to the greater good of your people; prior to their deaths, Moses and Jacob were both able to do that for their children and disciples. In their blessings, Jacob and Moses foretold the future. Their blessings were so powerful that they transcended the centuries and are with us to this very day. Today, when we rise to bless our children, we invoke the words of the Patriarch Jacob and the Priestly Blessing that God imparted to Aaron. Thus, our children become a continuous link in the endless chain that takes us back to the genesis of our history.
THE UNIQUENESS OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
Prior to offering his blessing, Moses speaks of the greatness of the Jewish nation and recounts the merits that rendered them worthy of being God's chosen people. Thus, we learn from Moses the importance of referring to the good deeds of a person prior to imparting blessing so that God Himself may place His seal of approval on the berachah.
Moses recalls that God offered the Torah to all the nations, only to have them reject it after they learned what the Torah required of them. Although all the nations were consulted, Moses mentions only Esau and Ishmael. "Hashem came from Sinai - having shone forth to them from Seir, having appeared from Mount Paran ...." (Seir and Paran were the habitations of Esau and Ishmael.) Why does the Torah focus only on these two nations and ignore all the others that also rejected God's offer?
Esau and Ishmael should have known better, for they were nurtured in Torah homes. Esau was the son of Isaac and Rebecca and he also had the privilege of knowing his zeide, Abraham. Moreover, he was the identical twin of Jacob, the paradigm of Torah, and could have learned from him. So yes, he should have known better. He should have said yes to the call of God.
Ishmael was also guilty, for he was raised in the loving home of Abraham and Sarah, yet he chose the bow and arrow and thievery over the teachings of his father. Both Esau and Ishmael rebelled and spurned their spiritual heritage, and it was this rebellion and contempt for Torah that they passed on to future generations.
So it was that when God approached their descendants and invited them to accept the Torah, they asked what those laws entailed, and when they found that there were prohibitions and disciplines that would curb their animalistic natures, they rejected God's Torah out of hand. From this we can learn that the way of life a man chooses has far-reaching consequences that transcend generations and can taint his descendants.
In contrast, when God approached the Jewish people, they never asked questions. They did not make their acceptance contingent upon anything. Their automatic response was "Na'aseh v'nishma." The Jewish nation understood that it would be the height of chutzpah to ask God to first reveal the contents of His gift, the Torah. How dare anyone question it? If it comes from God, it must be perfect. The people understood that it would be a privilege to be given commandments that come from God. It is this awareness that flows in the veins of our people and has enabled us to remain loyal to our Torah throughout the centuries and to humbly thank Hashem for the privilege of serving Him.
MOSES DIED AND YET HE LIVES
Vayamas sham Moshe, eved Hashem ... - So Moses, servant of Hashem, died there, in the land of Moab, by the mouth of Hashem." Our sages ask, "What is the meaning of 'died there'?" And they answer, "He only died there, but he lives on in our hearts. His teachings are forever with us."
Our Sages further ask, "If Moses died, who wrote the last passages of the Torah?"
There are two views. One is that up to this point, Moses wrote, and Joshua completed these final passages. The other teaching is that God dictated the words to Moses and he wrote them with his tears.
Throughout his life, Moses was known as "Ish Ha Elokeim - Man of God." But as death confronts him, his title is changed to "Eved Hashem - servant of God." There can be no greater testimony to a man than to be called "Eved Hashem." A servant has no identity of his own; he belongs totally to his master. Similarly, Moses' entire life was dedicated to his Master, his God.
Moreover, in contrast to other members of a royal house, the servant has access to the inner chambers of the king at all times. Similarly, Moses was able to communicate with God at all times, speak to Him face to face, and now, in his death, as he sheds the barrier of his physical self, he is given this new title, "Servant of God," and is invited to enter the inner chambers of Hashem, the King.
Moses died "by the mouth of God," meaning that God drew forth his soul with a Divine kiss. God Himself buried him, and to this day, no one knows the exact location of his burial place.
THE LAST LETTER
The concluding word of the Torah is "Yisrael - Israel," teaching us that the Torah was given for the sake of Israel - the Jewish people. The last letter of the Torah, lamed, is also instructive, teaching that if we combine that letter with the first letter of the Torah, "beis" from Bereshis, we will come up with the word "lev - heart." The entire Torah, from beginning to end, was given in order to refine our hearts and make us the compassionate, merciful children of God.
1. Deut. 33:2.
2. Ibid. 34:5.