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PARASHAH: V'Zot HaBrachah (This is the blessing)
ADDRESS: D'varim (Deuteronomy) 33:1-34:12
READING DATE: Shabbat
AUTHOR: Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy
 

(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)

Let’s begin with the opening blessing for the Torah:

“Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,
asher bachar banu m’kol ha-amim,
v’natan lanu eht Torah-to.
Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.
Ameyn.”

(Blessed are you, O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
you have selected us from among all the peoples,

and have given us your Torah.

Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.

Ameyn.)

Life is full of cycles.  Beginnings and endings encompass our whole existence.  HaShem has masterfully designed everything in creation to work together this way.  The rain falls to the land; it is washed down to the sea via rivers and streams; evaporation takes place and clouds form, and then the whole cycle repeats itself.  Cycles produce cleansing.  Cycles promote growth.  With cycles also comes needed change of routine.  In the absence of the numerous life cycles, our opportunities for development would be truncated, and our existence might seem rather boring and mundane.

The Torah of HaShem is a book full of cycles. Its pages are teeming with the beginnings and endings of men, families, nations and kings.  As soon as one episode ends, another one is just beginning!  It is never stagnant!  This type of life-action flow makes for adequate challenge to the readers of the Torah, providing the necessary lessons and examples whereby we can shape our own lives into the person HaShem created us to be.  It is with this introduction that we embark on the final parashah (portion) of the first five books of the Torah.  As we shall see, even this “ending” is really just another “new beginning”.

Our portion gets its name, “V’Zot HaBrachah”, from the opening statement of 33:1,

“V’Zot haberachah asher berach Moshe ish ha'Elohim et-beney Yisra'el lifney moto”

(This is the blessing the Moshe, the man of God, spoke over the people of Isra’el before his death).

In many ways, this is one of the saddest portions of the Torah.  First, Moshe, the “father” and “mother” of the budding new nation of Isra’el is about to die and pass the leadership onto Y’hoshua, his faithful servant.  He has tirelessly lead Am Yisra’el through many difficult times, as well as provided a visible and necessary link between their “untouchable” God and themselves.  Were it not for this most famous teacher of Isra’el, the nation surely would not have survived their exodus from the slave land of Egypt.

Second, although he lovingly conveys to each individual tribe a blessing from the conscience of HaShem, the people know that this will be the final instruction and exhortation from this great man.  You can almost imagine the somber mood that might have replaced the usual excitement and expectation that normally accompanies the giving of a blessing.  In fact, you might even go so far as to imagine HaShem himself being saddened by the loss of his closest friend of that time period.  After all, Moshe had been identified as the one whom “God spoke face to face with, as a man speaks to his friend (Exodus 33:11a).”  Surely the Father’s heart would miss this type of earthly fellowship as well.

Lastly, despite the unmatched servitude that Moshe provided to HaShem, he and his brother Aharon’s disobedience in displaying the holiness of HaShem to the people, at the Spring of M’rivat-Kadesh (Numbers 20:7-12), warranted the punishment of not being able to cross the River Jordan into the Promised Land.  Moshe would only get to view this land from a distance before his death.

Space here does not permit me to conduct a detailed study on each and every blessing that Moshe gave to the Twelve Tribes.  I only want to single out one tribe, and comment on the blessing.  Then we will examine the final words of Chapter 34.

“Of Y’hudah he said: “Hear, ADONAI, the cry of Y’hudah!  Bring him to his people, let his own hands defend him; but you, help him against his enemies.”

This blessing, given to the Tribe of Y’hudah, is found in 33:7.  This tribe has also, experienced the “messianic” blessing/prophecy (given to the tribe’s father, Y’hudah, in Genesis 49:8-12), since the days of the man Isra’el.  What could Moshe be hinting at when he used the phrase “bring him to his people”?  I would like to make a short drash (homiletic exposition) on this statement.

Using our current knowledge of the previous prophecy/blessing of Genesis, we remember that the ruler, given the title “Shiloh”, refers to the Messiah.  I don’t need to quote the various places where the Talmud makes this association; it is well known in rabbinical circles.  This prophecy is quite familiar to many Christians as well.  To be sure, Yeshua ben-Yosef was indeed born into the tribe of Y’hudah, confirming the words of this prophecy (Matthew 1:1-16; Revelation 5:5).  Since the Messiah fulfilled the prophecy in Genesis, he therefore stands to represent the tribe as its most notable member.  Moreover, the Messiah represents the entire Nation of Isra’el as a whole.  In Genesis, the blessing that the Messiah would come was in the future tense.  Likewise here in our present text, the wording suggests that “Y’hudah” would experience (future) an “exile” of some sort, a distancing of himself (or someone else) from the rest of the people, bringing about a petition to HaShem to return [him] to his people.  I suggest that Yeshua is the one of whom the tribe is crying out to (or because of)!  “Bring him (Yeshua) to his people!”

For too long this Son of Y’hudah has lived in “exile” from the rest of his tribe, the “Y’hudim”, the “Judah-ites“, the Jews”!  The remnant of believing Y’hudim are petitioning the Sovereign LORD, “Please bring HIM unto his people!  Return HIM to his tribe, that we may welcome our long “lost” brother, our own flesh and blood!”  Indeed, one day, the entire Nation of Isra’el will welcome back into the community, the long awaited Son of Y’hudah!

Now I want to briefly examine the final eulogy about this man Moshe.  The text (34:10) says that Isra’el has not enjoyed a prophet on the same level as Moshe, since his death.  From a natural point of view this is true; Moshe stands in a class all by himself.  But earlier in the Torah, in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 (Parashah Shoftim), Moshe himself told the people that the LORD would raise up another prophet, like himself, for the people to follow.  First Century literary sources show that the people living in and around the time of the Second Temple period applied this prophetic passage to the coming messiah figure.  Yeshua ben-Yosef was such a figure.  To be sure, even the New Covenant echoes these same sentiments.

If we are to understand what the Torah is instructing the people here in our current parashah, then truly no one has ever superceded the reputation that Moshe had.  But the truth is, Yeshua, the “second Moshe” is shown to be greater than his predecessor was; this does not upset the truth of what is recorded here for us in Deuteronomy.  Many similarities between them can be observed:

  • Moshe had his humble beginnings in a relatively unknown family in Egypt, having his life spared by the protection of his immediate family; Yeshua also had his humble beginning in a lowly, unknown family, his parents having saved their lives and his by fleeing to Egypt
  • Moshe began his public ministry after a period of “forty”; Yeshua began his public ministry after a period of “forty”
  • Moshe was the “giver” of the Torah; Yeshua explained the fullness and correct interpretation of “Moshe’s Torah”
  • In more than one instance Moshe acted in the role of intercessor between the people and HaShem; Yeshua became our Great High Priest, interceding for us on behalf of the Father, and forever lives to make intercession on our behalf
  • Moshe “instituted” the Old[er] Covenant; Yeshua “instituted” the New[er] Covenant


Thus we see that Yeshua was greater than Moshe in many respects, yet the context of the verse is not compromised.  These facts about Moshe and Yeshua are important for us to internalize, because many members of the Jewish Community have taken the words of this prophecy to a literal extreme, discounting any possibility of Yeshua being the Messiah.  In fact, a rather famous teacher by the name of Rabbi Moshe ben-Maimon, affectionately known as “RaMBaM” (1135-1204) produced a serious of Thirteen Principles (still recited in synagogues today), one of which states that this verse means ‘no prophet has arisen in Isra’el like Moshe, and none ever will’.  Consequently, according to RaMBaM, Yeshua could not have been “The Prophet”.  (For more information on Deuteronomy 18:15-19, and the subject of “The Prophet”, read my commentary to Parashah Shoftim, provided by this web site)

Our parashah has come to an end, but our study of the Torah should never end.  Just to be sure, we invite you to “turn the Torah over again” (a quote by Rabbi ben-BagBag, Talmud: Pirke Avot) by starting in Genesis right after the conclusion of the Fall Feasts.  In fact, in keeping with Jewish custom, I want to recite for you the last few verses of the book of Deuteronomy and immediately follow them with the first few verses of Genesis:

“Velo-kam navi od b’Yisra'el keMoshe asher yeda'o ADONAI panim el-panim. Lechol-ha'otot vehamoftim asher shlacho ADONAI la'asot be'erets Mitzrayim le-Far'oh ulechol-avadav ulechol-artso. Ulechol hayad hachazakah ulechol hamora hagadol asher asah Moshe le'eyney kol-Yisra'el.”

(Since that time there has not arisen in Isra’el a prophet like Moshe, whom ADONAI knew face to face.  What signs and wonders ADONAI sent him to perform in the land of Egypt upon Pharaoh, all his servants and all his land!  What might was in his hand!  What great terror he evoked before the eyes of all Isra’el!)

“B’resheet bara Elohim eht hashamayim ve'eht ha'arets. Veha'arets hayetah tohu vavohu vechoshech al-peney tehom veruach Elohim merachefet al-peney hamayim. Vayomer Elohim yehi-or vayehi-or.”

(In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was unformed and void, darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water.  Then God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light.)

I challenge you to continue studying God’s Word on your own, or with the aid of a good commentary.  You are invited to continue studying with us here at this web site.  A weekly commentary is provided for every Shabbat reading of the Torah schedule.  You may also wish to consult other various rabbinical commentaries on the Parahsh’ot HaShavuah, the Weekly Portions.

 

Nahar Deah

Chapter 34 - Closing Notes
With David Guzik

(5-8) The death and burial of Moses, the servant of the Lord.

a. Moses’ epitaph - the line on his tombstone - simple. It was not "Moses, Prince of Egypt." It was not "Moses, Murderer of an Egyptian." It was not "Moses, Shepherd in the Wilderness." It was not "Moses, Spokesman for a Nation." It was not "Moses, Miracle Worker." It was not "Moses, Prophet." It was not "Moses, the Man Who Saw a Piece of God’s Glory." It was not "Moses, Who Never Entered the Promised Land." At the end of it all, the title is simple: Moses the servant of the Lord.

i. Oh, that this would be enough for us! We often say it, and it sounds so humble to say it, but how hard it is to really live it! To be satisfied with simply being the servant of the Lord is a precious place indeed. It is the happiest of all stations in life, for when the Master is glorified, the servants are satisfied!

ii. Are you a servant of the Lord? Here is a simple test: how do you react when someone treats you as a servant? Many of us are pleased to be servants for people of our own choosing or in circumstances of our own choosing. But that isn’t really being the servant of the Lord.

b. Moses the servant of the Lord died: just as God had promised. The promises of God are sure, including His more severe promises. It all happened according to the word of the Lord.

i. Literally, the phrase according to the word of the Lord means upon the mouth of the Lord. From this, ancient Jewish traditions say that Moses died as God took away his soul with a kiss. The medieval Jewish rabbi Maimonides says that of the 903 different ways to die, this was the best.

ii. "In the meanwhile, Moses’ time was at an end. A voice from heaven resounded, saying: ‘Why, Moses, dost thou strive in vain? Thy last second is at hand.’ Moses instantly stood up for prayer, and said: ‘Lord of the world! Be mindful of the day on which Thou didst reveal Thyself to me in the bush of thorns, and be mindful also of the day when I ascended into heaven and during forty days partook of neither food nor drink. Thou, Gracious and Merciful, deliver me not into the hand of [Satan].’ God replied: ‘I have heard thy prayer. I Myself shall attend to thee and bury thee.’ Moses now sanctified himself as do the Seraphim that surround the Divine Majesty, whereupon God from the highest heavens revealed Himself to receive Moses’ soul. When Moses beheld the Holy One, blessed be His Name, he fell upon his face and said: ‘Lord of the world! In love didst Thou create the world, and in love Thou guidest it. Treat me also with love, and deliver me not into the hands of the Angel of Death.’ A heavenly voice sounded and said: ‘Moses, be not afraid. "Thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward."’"

"With God descended from heaven three angels, Michael, Gabriel, and Zagzagel. Gabriel arranged Moses’ couch, Michael spread upon it a purple garment, and Zagzagel laid down a woolen pillow. God stationed Himself over Moses’ head, Michael to his right, Gabriel to his left, and Zagzagel at his feet, whereupon God addressed Moses: ‘Cross thy feet,’ and Moses did so. He then said, ‘Fold thy hands and lay them upon thy breast,’ and Moses did so. Then God said, ‘Close thine eyes,’ and Moses did so. Then God spake to Moses’ soul: ‘My daughter, one hundred and twenty years had I decreed that thou shouldst dwell in this righteous man’s body, but hesitate not now to leave it, for thy time has run. . . . I Myself shall take thee to the highest heavens and let thee dwell under the Throne of My Glory’ . . . When Moses heard these words, he permitted his soul to leave him, saying to her: ‘Return to thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.’ God thereupon took Moses’ soul by kissing him on the mouth." (Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews)

iii. "As a mother takes her child and kisses it, and then lays it down to sleep in its own bed; so did the Lord kiss the soul of Moses away to be with him for ever, and then he hid is body we know not where." (Spurgeon)

c. Notably, the Lord buried Moses: And He buried him in a valley. This was more complicated than it sounds, because there was a Satanic contention over the body of Moses.

i. Jude 9 speaks of an occasion when Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses. Apparently, there was a contention over the body of Moses, and according to Jude, Michael the archangel won this contest as he appealed to the Lord’s authority: "The Lord rebuke you!" But why was Michael contending with Satan over the body of Moses?

ii. Some have said that the Devil wanted to use Moses’ body as an object of worship to lead Israel astray into idolatry; others have thought that Satan wanted to desecrate the body of Moses, and claimed a right to it because Moses had murdered an Egyptian.

iii. But consider that God had another purpose for Moses’ body, which Satan wanted to defeat: Moses appears in bodily form with Elijah (whose body was caught up to heaven [2 Kings 2]) at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3); and perhaps Moses and Elijah are the two witnesses of Revelation 11.

iv. Apparently, God had a purpose to fulfill with the body of Moses before the time of general resurrection, so God made special provision to bury the body of Moses Himself. And, perhaps, God preserved the body of Moses in some way. God wanted to protect the body of Moses, so no one knows his grave to this day. Seemingly, they searched for it, as would be expected, out of a desire to memorialize this great leader of the nation.

d. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. Moses’ life was neatly divided into thirds: 40 years as the crown prince of Egypt, 40 years as a humble shepherd in the wilderness, and 40 years leading the children of Israel to their destiny in the Promised Land. The first two-thirds were in preparation for the last one third. Are you willing to let God prepare you for eighty years?

e. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor abated: This confirms what was observed at Deuteronomy 31:1 (I can no longer go out and come in). Moses was not hindered by physical infirmity, but by the command of God.

f. The children of Israel wept . . . the days of weeping and mourning for Moses ended. As great as Moses was, the days of mourning for him ended. It was time to move on. God’s program did not end with Moses, nor does it end with any man. The torch is passed, and God’s work goes on.  

It is customary after the completion of a book of the Torah to say,

“Chazak, chazak, v’nit’chazek!”
(Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!)

The closing blessing is as follows:

“Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,
asher natan lanu Toraht-emet,

v’chay-yeh o’lam nata-b’tochenu.

Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.

Ameyn.”

(Blessed are you O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
you have given us your Torah of truth,

and have planted everlasting life within our midst.

Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.

Ameyn.)

“Shabbat Shalom!”

Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy

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