By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant 

This week’s Torah Parsha (V’ZOTHABRACHA) is the final reading in the last of the five Books of the Torah. The Parsha begins with Moses blessing each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Echoing Jacobs’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 says to Moses: “This is the Land, which I swore to Abraham; to Isaac; and, to Jacob, informing 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). It is a statement conspicuous in its simplicity. There are no crowds; there is no weeping.

Yet, it is a profoundly sad moment; the obituary spoken by Joshua (Moses’ successor) is unsurpassed:

“Never did there arrive a prophet in Israel like Moses, who so perceptively understood the Lord, in all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to display in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh; all of his servants; and, for all of God’s mighty acts and miracles, which the Lord, our God revealed to us in the desert” (3).

Moses had defied God’s word to ‘talk’ to a rock, to bring forth water; and, ‘struck’ the rock, according to his own instincts. There is no consensus in the Midrash, as to whether this singular incident of disobedience to God’s directive, was the particular rationale for Moses’ harsh punishment. Nevertheless, this gesture was certainly part of the equation. God had concluded that Moses was the ideal leader and teacher for those Israelites, who had formerly been enslaved in Egypt. However, a new generation, born into freedom would be more inclined to respond to ‘words’, explanations, and implications, than simply observing an act (similar to a ‘strike’), which their ancestors actually physically experienced (4).

Throughout the Torah, there are six hundred and thirteen commandments, which we are expected to obey, and reflect upon. Several of our most prolific sages expressed their objection to this finite number. The brother of Vilan Gaon (5) explained that the Torah can be compared to a tree: a tree has roots, and many branches sprouting from those roots. So, too, the Torah has six hundred and thirteen roots; but, there are numerous branches sprouting from each of these 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 ‘Torah Chaim’, which can be translated 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 actually put into practice” (6).

As we approach the celebration of the great gift of the Torah, let us hope that we can utilize this gift to its fullest.

 

FOOTNOTES:

(1) DEUTERONOMY (33:4)

(2) DEUTERONOMY (33:5)

(3) DEUTERONOMY (34:10-12)

(4) Rabbi Yehuda Arychleib, “Safat Emet” (“Language of the Truth”) 1874-1905 Warsaw, Poland

(5) Rabbi Avraham (1776-1808), Talmudist, “Maalot Hatorah”, (Publisher: Yesodi, Jerusalem)

(6) Maimonides (in letter to his son)