And this is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, blessed the children of Israel [just] before his death. [Deuteronomy. 33:1]
Moses’s farewell to the Israelites comes in the form of a blessing. That’s how the righteous work. They bless you coming in and coming out. But the Torah’s description — “this is the blessing” — indicates that what Moses was saying now was special. Think of a used car salesman walking you through the lot and finally pointing to a lemon-colored Pontiac, saying “This is the car.”
The Midrash agrees. There were blessings by the ancestors of Moses. At one point, the Midrash says, they lined up to tell Moses that they were higher up on the spiritual chain than the founder of the Jewish nation.
Adam argued, “I was created in G-d’s image.” Moses replied, “But look how you ended up, expelled from the Garden of Eden?”
Noah was next. “I was the only survivor of the flood.” Moses’s reply: “You might have saved yourself but not your generation. I did both.”
Abraham said, “I fed the passersby.” Moses countered with, “You fed the uncircumcised out of your own home. I fed the circumcised in the desert.”
Issac turned to Moses: “I laid my head down on the altar for slaughter.” Moses came back with, “You were blinded by the tears of the angel who saw you from above. I sacrificed myself as well, but my eyesight remained until the end.”
Finally, Jacob challenged Moses: “I fought with the angel all night and won.” Moses said, “You fought with the angel on your turf, while I confronted a host of angels in heaven”
The Ramban, Moses Ben Nachman, sees this exchange as significant. Moses was indeed on a higher plane than Adam, Noah and the patriarchs. His blessing derived from Jacob. But, the Ramban adds, Moses was also a servant of G-d, and his blessing would prove to be permanent.
Moses was a man of the Lord, and the prayer of the honest becomes His will.
Of course, the biggest difference between Moses and his predecessors was in the timing. Abraham, Issac and Jacob, however great, were heads of families. Moses was the leader of the new nation of Israelites. He was responsible to millions for everything — whether food, water and most importantly moving to the Promised Land. And at a certain point, he would step down: The leader is replaced, not the nation.
The truly righteous among us act the same way: Their dedication to the Jewish people is total. They care for the health and welfare of their flock wherever they are. They minister to the ignorant and counsel the wise. And they never quit.
Years ago, a young hasid from the Lubavitch movement was asked by a remote Jewish community in Australia to conduct services on the High Holy Days. Before his departure, the hasid was contacted by the secretary of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Rebbe of Lubavitch. The message was cryptic: Look out for the Egyptians.”
The hasid had no idea what the Rebbe meant. But as soon as he came to inspect the synagogue with a leader of the community, he saw a blind girl being taken to the ark. The young woman cried and cried. The hasid asked what was wrong. Nobody answered him.
Later, when the hasid came to lead the first prayer before Rosh Hashana, he saw a group way in the back. They looked different from the lily white congregants near him. “Forget them,” the hasid was told by the president of the synagogue. “They’re from Egypt. We have nothing to do with them.”
Back in his apartment, however, the hasid’s telephone kept ringing. Everytime, he picked it up, he heard the voice of the same girl crying. Then, the telephone went dead. The young rabbi called the synagogue president and asked for the address of the caller. Then, he took a taxi to the other side of town and got in the door.
The story he was told was chilling. The girl was studying at a Catholic school for the blind and some of the staff were trying to convert her. One day, the administrators told her parents: “We have many more applicants than places in this school. If you want your daughter to stay here she will have to become Catholic.
The parents, knowing of no other similar facility, reluctantly agreed. The girl was devastated.
After the story, the rabbi got on the phone to the president and demanded he come to the girl’s house. The president screamed, “It’s past midnight. Are you crazy?” The rabbi replied simply, “If you don’t come, find somebody else to conduct services.” Finally, the community conducted a search for a proper facility for this blind young woman.
For a Jew, timing is everything. When we fasted on Yom Kippur, we were regarded as angels. Once the Shofar was blown, we were back to being human though we hadn’t touched a morsel of food and were still praying hard.
The festival of Tabernacles is no exception to the vicissitudes of time. Historically, the Jews began to live in huts as soon as they left Egypt. That meant that Tabernacles should be observed after Passover — or late April. So, why do we build Sukkot in late September, early October?
Moses and every other righteous person could have answered that question easily: Tabernacles is about leaving your comfort zone. It’s really a rich man’s holiday. He is commanded to walk out of his villa, his master bedroom, his indoor pool and live in a hut with burlap for walls and straw for a roof. The poor don’t have that problem: They live like that all year around.
But that Sukka is G-d’s place. King David, whose palace was nothing to sneeze at, said it best: Sukkot is time to join G-d.
See our shield, O G-d, and look at the face of your anointed. For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand; I chose to sit on the threshold of the house of My G-d rather than dwell in tents of wickedness. [Psalms. 84: 10-11]