Vezot Habrachah is the last portion of the book of Deuteronomy. Moses' final words to the Israelites before his death are recorded here. Moses blesses the Israelites and offers a prayer on behalf of each tribe. Only the tribe of Simeon is not mentioned. Moses then goes up to Mount Nebo and Adonai shows him all of the Promised Land. Adonai reminds Moses that he will not live to enter the Land. Moses then dies, but no one knows where his burial place is located. The Israelites mourn him for 30 days. Joshua is now the leader of the people.
The Torah ends with the sentiment that never again would there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses, who knew God face to face.
Vezot HaBrachah means "This is the blessing" and refers to the blessing Moses gave to the tribes of Israel prior to his death on Mount Nebo. The midrash relates the following conversation between God and Moses: "God told Moses that the hour of his death was near. Moses replied: Wait until I bless Israel. All my life they have had no pleasant experiences with me, for I constantly rebuked them and admonished them to fear God and fulfill the commandments. I do not wish to leave this world before I have blessed them" (Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginsberg, Vol. III)
In this last parasha of the Torah, Moses is called "ish ha-Elohim," man of God, and "eved Adonai," servant of God. Moses is also known in Jewish tradition as "Moshe Rabbenu," Moses our teacher. The Torah is also sometimes called "Torat Moshe," the Torah of Moses, and we speak of the Five Books of Moses. These titles describe the importance of Moses and the pivotal role he played in the development of Judaism. But the burial place of the this great and powerful individual is unknown. Rabbi Levi ben Gershon, also known as Gershonides taught that God buried Moses so that future generations would not come to venerate the burial site and worship Moses as a deity.
- Reread the midrash in the SUMMARY section. Describe Moses' view of himself and his relationship with the Jewish people. How do you think the Israelite people might have described Moses? What differences might there have been between Moses' perception and the perception of the Jewish community? Why might there be differences in the two descriptions? From your own knowledge of Moses, how might you have described him and his relationship to his people?
- In many ways Moses was like a parent to the children of Israel. For parents: How do you as a parent balance discipline with love, being fair with setting boundaries, being kind while still enforcing rules? For children: How do you see your parent(s) working out this balancing act? From your vantage point now, how do you think you will do as a parent? Together: What role(s) and responsibilities do parents and children have to help maintain this balance in their families? Share some personal examples.
- What lasting words and feelings did Moses want to leave with the Israelites? In Judaism there is a tradition of writing ethical wills. An ethical will is a personal legacy of values, morals and ethics which an individual wishes to pass on. Have each member of your family take some time to begin writing an ethical will. Things to think about when writing: what ethics, ideals, and behaviors do you cherish which you hope future generations will also come to value?
- Judaism stresses the importance of remembering and memorializing those who have died. The body of one who has died must be treated with respect, buried soon after death, a week of shiva is observed and then an additional 30 days of semi-mourning, followed by a year of saying kaddish. Within a year after the death, a grave marker is erected on the burial site. Kaddish is then recited each year, on the anniversary of the death, and during Yizkor services. This is all done for any Jew, yet Moses, a very special individual within Jewish tradition, has no marked grave and we observe no yahrzeit for him. How do we as a Jewish people memorialize and honor Moses? How do we honor our own dead without venerating them and without focusing exclusively on their deaths rather than on their lives?
- The Ba'al Shem Tov said, "The purpose of the whole Torah is that each person should become a Torah." What do you think the Ba'al Shem Tov meant by this statement? What does Torah mean to you and how can you become a Torah?
Did you know... The last word of the Torah is "Yisrael" and the last letter of the word "Yisrael" is lamed. The first word of the Torah is " Beresheet" and the first letter of the word "Beresheet" is bet (without the dot in the bet it is read as a vet ). If you put the lamed and the vet together, the last and first letters of Torah, it spells "lev" which in Hebrew means "heart." From this we learn that the Torah is the heart of the Jewish people.
V'zot Habrachah, Deuteronomy 33:1‒34:12
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 1,580‒1,588; Revised Edition, pp. 1,418‒1,435
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 1,271‒1,290