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Between Haazinu and Zot Habracha

At the end of Parashat Haazinu, God informs Moshe for the last time that he will die, and provides the following reason:

“You shall die on the mountain that you are about to ascend, and shall be gathered to your kin, as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his kin; for you both broke faith with Me among the Israelite people, at the waters of Meribath-kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, by failing to uphold My sanctity among the Israelite people. You may view the land from a distance, but you shall not enter it—the land that I am giving to the Israelite people.” (Devarim 32:50-52)

After all these years as God’s dedicated servant and emissary, the last words Moshe receives from God are a reminder of his sin and punishment. Even for Moshe, the humblest of men, this must have been a difficult message to receive. How does he react?

We can imagine alternate scenarios to what actually occurred. Moshe could have tried once again to plead his case to God, or he could have complained about the people of Israel. Both of those tactics would have support from the poem of Haazinu that God had him teach the people earlier in the chapter.

In the poem, the nation is described as a crooked, perverse generation” (Devarim 32:5), who “forsook the God who made [them]” (Devarim 32:15), and as a result God became incensed with the people, and punished them. Moshe could have claimed that if God was angered over the people’s insolence, why should he have been punished for hitting the rock out of anger, in reaction to similar circumstances? Surely God could understand Moshe’s frustrations.

Or Moshe could have pointed out to God that despite the faults of the nation, they were still allowed to enter the land. So no less should be allowed Moshe, the one who had to suffer their indignities all these years!

But Moshe did neither of those things. Instead, he blessed the people. It is noteworthy, as R. Hirsch writes, that “this blessing of Moses was not said, as the rest of the Torah was, as the Word of God, but emanated primarily out of the depth of his own heart.” In contrast with the song of Haazinu, God did not command Moshe to bless the people. This was his own initiative, and in the context of the previous verses it appears to be a response to God’s final words to him.

However, if we look at the words of the blessing, it appears to be more of a response to the harsh words of HaAzinu than to God’s decree against Moshe. R. Elchanan Samet points out that both poems focus on Israel’s time in the wilderness. But while Haazinu only recalls the one-sided relationship between the caring God and the ungrateful people, the blessing of Moshe mentions the pivotal event of the giving of the Torah at Sinai: “The LORD came from Sinai […] They followed in Your steps, accepting Your pronouncements, when Moses charged us with the Teaching as the heritage of the congregation of Jacob.” (Devarim 33:2-4)

The people should not only be characterized by their ungratefulness, but also by their willingness to enter into a covenantal relationship with God, and to accept His commandments. And so instead of God’s turning away from the people  in Haazinu, “I will hide My countenance from them” (Devarim 32:20), Moshe, in his blessing, prays for God to sustain the people: “May Reuben live and not die […] Hear, O LORD, the voice of Judah […] And of Joseph he said: Blessed of the LORD be his land.” (Devarim 33:6-7, 13). The people deserved God’s blessing as a result of their commitment to Him. And by including Moshe’s blessing in the Torah, God too committed to Moshe’s wishes.

In his final hours, Moshe remained the protector of Israel. As he had done many times in the past, he stood up to God to argue for the people he loved, ignoring his own standing and legacy. This is why Moshe was the humblest of men, and as the Sages (Eruvin 13b) said, “anyone who flees from greatness, greatness seeks him.” Moshe, the shepherd, was only concerned about his flocks, the people of Israel, and and as a result merited that the Torah should end in his honor: “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses […]  and for all the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel.” (Devarim 34:11-12)

About the Author
David Curwin is a writer living in Efrat. He has been writing about the origin of Hebrew words and phrases, and their connection to other languages, on his website balashon.com since 2006. He has also published widely on topics relating to Bible and Jewish philosophy.
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