The Torah/V'Zot HaBerachah
As told in Deuteronomy 33:1–34:12, this is the story of the Torah reading V'Zot HaBerachah:
The blessing of Moses
Before he died, Moses, the man of God, bade the Israelites farewell with this blessing: God came from Sinai, shone on them from Seir, appeared from Paran, and approached from Ribeboth-kodesh, lightning flashing from God’s right. God loved the people, holding their hallowed in God’s hand. The people followed in God’s steps, accepting God’s Torah as the heritage of the congregation of Jacob. God became King in Jeshurun when the chiefs of the tribes of Israel assembled.
Moses prayed that the Tribe of Reuben survive, though its numbers were few.
Moses asked God to hear the voice of the Tribe of Judah, restore it, and help it against its foes.
Moses prayed that God would be with the Levites, who held God’s Urim and Thummim, whom God tested at Massah and Meribah, who disregarded family ties to carry out God’s will, who would teach God’s laws to Israel, and who would offer God’s incense and offerings. Moses asked God to bless their substance, favor their undertakings, and smite their enemies.
Moses said that God loved and always protected the Tribe of Benjamin, who rested securely beside God, between God’s shoulders.
Moses called on God to bless the Tribe of Joseph with dew, the yield of the sun, crops in season, the bounty of the hills, and the favor of the Presence in the burning bush. Moses likened the tribe to a firstling bull, with horns like a wild ox, who gores the peoples from one end of the earth to the other.
Moses exhorted the Tribe of Zebulun to rejoice on its journeys, and the Tribe of Issachar in its tents. They invited their kin to the mountain where they offered sacrifices of success; they drew from the riches of the sea and the hidden hoards of the sand.
Moses blessed the God who enlarged the Tribe of Gad, who was poised like a lion, who chose the best, the portion of the revered chieftain, who executed God’s judgments for Israel.
Moses called the Tribe of Dan a lion’s whelp that leapt from Bashan.
Moses told the Tribe of Naphtali, sated with favor and blessed by God, to take possession on the west and south.
Moses prayed that the Tribe of Asher be the favorite among the tribes, dip its feet in oil, and have door bolts of iron and copper and security all its days.
Moses said that there was none like God, riding through the heavens to help, an everlasting refuge and support, Who drove out the enemy. Thus Israel dwelt untroubled in safety in a land of grain and wine under heaven’s dripping dew. Who was like Israel, a people delivered by God, God’s protecting Shield and Sword triumphant over Israel’s cringing enemies.
The death of Moses
Moses went up from the steppes of Moab to Mount Nebo, and God showed him the whole land. God told Moses that this was the land that God had sworn to assign to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
So Moses the servant of God died there, in the land of Moab, at God’s command, and God buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, near Beth-peor, although no one knew his burial place. Moses was 120 years old when he died, but his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated. The Israelites mourned for 30 days. Joshua was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him, and the Israelites heeded him.
Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom God singled out, face to face, for the signs and portents that God sent him to display against Pharaoh and Egypt, and for all the awesome power that Moses displayed before Israel.
Here are a few of the questions that the Rabbis raised about this Torah reading:
- When did Moses deliver his blessing in Deuteronomy 33 relative to his prayer in Psalm 90?
- How did God reward Moses for attending to Joseph’s bones?
- Sifre to Deuteronomy 342:2. Land of Israel, circa 250–350 CE. Reprinted in, e.g., Sifre to Deuteronomy: An Analytical Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, volume 2, pages 402–03. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987. ISBN 1-55540-145-7.
- Mishnah Sotah 1:7–9. Tosefta Sotah 4:8.