Parashat Vezot Haberacha / Simchat Torah
Le’ilui nishmat Shulamit bat Helen, Claire Cabasso, A’H,
by Isaac J. Cabasso.
Parashat Vezot Haberacha / Simchat Torah
Vezot Haberacha—This is the Blessing
During most of Sefer Devarim, Moshe gave harsh words of rebuke and criticism of B’nei Yisrael’s past and future behavior. Here, in the final parasha in the Torah, Vezot Haberacha, Moshe gives his last words of blessing and hope for the Jewish Nation. His words are spoken with the love of a father, teacher, and mentor.
Vezot Haberacha should be the saddest of all the parshiot since it records the passing of the nation’s beloved leader. However, Moshe’s blessings to his people remain as vital and encouraging today as the day they were first given. His fierce love for the Jewish people fuels their unbending affection for Torah, and so we revel in joy the day this parasha is read, as it represents concluding and beginning anew.
The Twelve Tribes
Before his death, Moshe gives blessings to each of the tribes, which echoes Yaakov’s berachot to his children five generations earlier. Moshe assigns and empowers each tribe with its individual role within the community of Israel.
The only tribe that does not receive a blessing is Shimon. Years earlier, in his final blessings, Yaakov had reproved both Shimon and Levi for their rash judgment with the destruction of Shechem. The tribe of Shimon continued to make quick, irresponsible decisions. Their leader, Zimri, had sinned in Shittim with a Moabite princess, inspiring many of his tribesmen to commit similar misdeeds (Rashi 33:7).
The tribe of Levi, however, had utilized its trait of zealousness and anger for the purpose of avenging the Almighty’s honor. They went on to punish the worshippers of the Golden Calf, Pinchas, a member of the tribe of Levi, was the one to slay Zimri, and years later, the Chashmonaim, descendants of Levi, would battle a Greek army to fight on behalf of Hashem and His people.
Therefore, the tribe of Shimon lost the privilege of receiving its own beracha. Nevertheless, Moshe alludes to the tribe of Shimon when he says, “Shema, Hashem—Listen, Hashem (33:7),” in Yehudah’s blessing, as shema contains the first three letters of the name Shimon, and Shimon received some strips of land within Yehudah’s portion.
Moshe ended his speech with praises of Hashem and Klal Yisrael. Vezot Haberacha then relates how Moshe ascended the mountain of Nevo, where he got a first and final glimpse of Eretz Yisrael before his death.
“So Moshe, servant of Hashem, died there, in the land of Moav, at the command of Hashem. G-d buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Bet Peor, and no one knows his burial place to this day (34:5-6).”
The midrash explains that Hashem buried Moshe because he had taken extra care and consideration with the bones of Yosef during the Exodus. As B’nei Yisrael carried out gold and silver, Moshe carried Yosef’s coffin. The midrash says Hashem said, “Yosef was obligated to bury his father in Eretz Yisrael because he was a son. But you are neither a son nor grandson, and you were not obligated to attend to [Yosef’s] body… Therefore, I, Who have no obligation to a human being, will personally tend to your burial.”
The passuk relates that until today, we don’t know the location of Moshe’s grave. Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch explains that the Torah saw the potential that Moshe Rabbenu’s grave could become a deity. All of us need to remember that when we visit the graves of the righteous, we do not pray to the pious people that they should bless us. Instead, we visit the graves of tzaddikim to ask that they petition the Ribono Shel Olam on our behalf. Moshe was a person of such monumental stature that his resting place had the potential to, chas veshalom, become a shrine.
Why does the Torah say we don’t know where Moshe is buried, but it has the precise location of “in Moav opposite Bet Peor?”
Many years ago, there was a small Jewish community somewhere in Poland that was in search of a rabbi. An enthusiastic young rabbi who had just received his semicha—rabbinical ordination came for an interview. After looking around the town, he was somewhat disappointed. He mentioned to the shul president that no one seemed interested in studying Torah. To keep him there, the president told him, “Did you know that some of the most prominent Torah luminaries such as the Rambam, Rashi, and the Rama are buried in our community?”
When faced with the possibility of having such illustrious antecedents, the rabbi started to look at the position in a new light. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll stay.”
A few months later, the rabbi passed by the town’s graveyard. On the spot, he decided to pay a visit to the graves of the tzaddikim. After half an hour of searching, he was convinced neither the Rambam, Rashi, nor the Rama were present amongst those who rested there. And then he thought to himself, “Hang on a minute! The Rambam is buried in Tiberius in Eretz Yisrael! Rashi’s buried in France, and the Rama is in Cracow!”
Livid, he demanded to see the president of the synagogue. “You lied to me!” The president explained, “Rabbi, do not get angry with us, for we have spoken the truth. You can visit Tiberias, their Yeshivot, and shuls and see that the Rambam still lives there. He is discussed, and his words are studied with the greatest respect. You can go through the Jewish academies of France, and you will see that Rashi lives there. He is part of the life of everyone who learns the Chumash and the Gemara. You can go to Cracow and see that the Rama, the great Rabbi Moshe Isserles, still lives there. The people live by the rulings he outlined in the Shulchan Aruch.
“However, in our community, all these great and prominent leaders of the Jewish people are dead and buried. You will not find anyone here, among our young and old, repeating words of the Rambam, Rashi, or the Rama. It is true, Rabbi, that all these great masters of Jewish law are ‘buried’ here in this community, and we brought you here to resurrect them.”
Moshe’s body indeed died “in the land of Moav opposite Bet Peor.” However, “no one knows his burial place” because as long as Torah is studied, Moshe will always be alive and well in the land of the living.
Torah Is Our Life
Last week in Parashat Haazinu, Moshe sang, “Apply your hearts to all the words that I warn you today, which you are to instruct your children, which you are to be careful to perform all the words of this Torah (32:46).” Ramban says that as Jews, our purpose in this world is to have children and to teach them the ways of the Torah. The education of our young children has always been the key to our survival as the Jewish Nation.
Rashi says that the Torah is our life, and if someone finds it unsatisfying, the feeling must stem from that person’s learning because the Torah is not lacking. If the Torah doesn't intrigue and challenge that person, he must not have applied himself properly. We pray every morning, “Vehaarev na Hashem elokenu et divrei toratecha bephenu- Sweeten for us Hashem our G-D the words of your Torah in our mouths.” This prayer should encourage us to learn more and learn well, so we may achieve that sweetness from learning Torah. Our attitude plays a critical role in the success of acquiring the joys of the Torah. Studying and toiling will ultimately be the most rewarding thing in one’s life.
Parashat Vezot Haberacha says, “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Jacob (33:4).” Rabbi Twerski comments on this, saying, “Torah is like inheritance, and it’s the parents’ responsibility to see that their child's inheritance does not fall into despair as a result of neglect. The failure to preserve a child's Torah inheritance is a serious dereliction.” Suppose we deprive a child of his Torah education for any reason, financial or otherwise. In that case, we’re setting off a ripple effect that will hurt all the future generations that succeed him. And when we give a child a solid yeshivah education, we will nurture all the souls that follow him.
Rabbi YY Jacobson told a story about a young man who went over to a familiar rabbi at a wedding. He said, “Hi Rabbi, do you remember me?” The rabbi looked at him and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t place you. Can you please remind me who you are?” The young man introduced himself and mentioned he was the Rav’s student. “You were my third-grade teacher; I am actually a teacher myself now.” The rabbi looked at him, pleasantly surprised, and said, “Really? Just like me. That’s exciting; what made you choose that path?” The man said, “You did! I saw what an impact you had on me, and I wanted to have to do the same for more children, so I went into education.” The rabbi, still without recollection, asked, “What kind of impact did I have on you?” The man said, “I’ll remind you, but I’m sure you remember the story.”
“One day, one of the boys came to class with a new watch that his parents got for him. I had never gotten such a nice present, and I decided I wanted it. So when he wasn’t looking, I slipped it off and stole it. He quickly went to the rabbi to tell him someone had taken his watch. You announced that all the boys should line up against the wall and that you would search all the pockets to see who took the watch. I thought this would be my most embarrassing and shameful experience. As we lined up, you stopped and told all the boys to close their eyes while you looked. All eyes were shut tight. You went from pocket to pocket looking for the watch, and then you got to mine, found the watch, and took it out. Then you kept going to the end of the line and searched all the pockets. After you returned the watch to the boy, you didn’t say a word to me about it the whole year. I received the message, and you saved my dignity, and I thought: this is what a real teacher is.”
The rabbi said, “Wow, I’m so happy I inspired you. That’s an amazing story!” The young man said, “But Rabbi, you didn’t recognize me! Wasn’t that story memorable? How could you forget my face, knowing I was the boy who stole his friend’s brand-new watch?” The rabbi said, “Because, young man, I had my eyes closed too.”
This rabbi approached chinuch and taught love for Torah and mitzvot not through words but actions. He set an example with his special midot that had a lasting effect on this student, and therefore to all students that this young man now teaches, and so on!
An Amazing Legacy
Parashat Vezot Haberacha is read with joy and enthusiasm, with children singing and dancing on their fathers’ shoulders. Simchat Torah is a day filled with sweetness, light, and pure happiness. It is a beautiful note to conclude an incredible year of Torah and the High Holidays. We rejoice and celebrate the start of a wonderful new year while holding the very gift Hashem gave to the Jewish Nation at Har Sinai. We must live by the Torah and continue the legacy of the Jewish people, enriching our children and grandchildren's lives.
Let us always desire to be better people, to learn more, and to come together as a nation as we did when we mourned the loss of Moshe Rabbenu ZT’L. May we be zocheh to teach our children and grandchildren according to the sweet ways of the Torah, enabling subsequent generations to do the same. May the joy and optimism of Simchat Torah carry us through the rest of the year. May we be blessed with all the berachot Moshe had gifted us in this parasha and anticipate the arrival of Mashiach in our days! Amen!
Chazak chazak venitchazek!!!
Tizku Leshanim Rabot!
Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey
· Do we apply ourselves properly to be intrigued and satisfied from learning Torah?
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