By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant This week’s Torah Parsha (BO) continues with the story of Exodus. God had already inflicted seven devastating plagues on Egypt, subsequent to the Pharaoh’s...
This week’s Torah Parsha (V’ZOTHABRACHA) is the final reading in the last of the five books of the Torah (DEUTERONOMY). The Parsha begins with Moses blessing each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Echoing Jacob’s blessings to his twelve sons, five generations earlier, Moses assigns and empowers each tribe with its individual role within the community of Israel.
Subsequent to these blessings, God said to Moses: “This is the Land, which I swore to Abraham; to Isaac; and, to Jacob, telling them that I would give it to their offspring” (1).
“I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross over there” (2), and Moses the servant of the Lord died, according to God’s will.
It is a profoundly sad moment; the obituary spoken by Joshua, Moses’ successor is unsurpassed:
“Never did there arise a prophet in Israel like Moses, who knew the Lord face-to-face, in all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to display in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh; all his servants; all his land; and, for all the mighty acts and awesome sights that Moses showed us in the sight of Israel” (3).
There is no consensus in the Midrash, as to whether striking a rock to bring forth water in the desert, as opposed to ‘speaking’ to the rock, as God had commanded, deserved the punishment which Moses endured. Rather, it appeared to be a clear sign to God, that although Moses was a great leader and teacher for those Israelites, who had formerly been enslaved, a new generation, born into freedom, required a more modern leader, who was also born into freedom.
Throughout the Torah, there are six hundred and thirteen commandments, which we are expected to obey and reflect upon. Several of our wisest sages expressed their objections to this finite number. The brother of Vilon Gaon (4) explained that the Torah can be compared to a tree: a tree has roots and many branches sprouting from the roots. So, too, the Torah has six hundred and thirteen roots; but, there are numerous branches sprouting from those roots.
Furthermore, he wrote that each of the lessons, derived from the actions of the characters in the Torah, constitute an obligation on the reader. The Torah is not merely a ‘history book’; rather, it is called ‘Torat Chaim’, which translates into ‘instructions for living’.
Maimonides agrees: “When you rise from Torah study, ponder carefully what you have learned, in order to determine what you can put into practice” (5).
As we approach the celebration of the great gift of Torah, let us hope that we can utilize this gift to its fullest.
(1) DEUTERONOMY (33:4)
(2) DEUTERONOMY (33:5)
(3) DEUTERONOMY (34:10-12)
(4) Rabbi Avraham (1776-1808), Jewish Talmudest, “Maalot Hatorah”, (Publisher: Yesodi)
(5) Maimonides in letter to his son