Ve-zot Ha-bracha, Sukkot, and Moshe’s eternal message

Etrogim for sale at Machne Yehudah Market. Jerusalem, Israel.

In this week’s parsha, וזאת הברכה, we conclude the book of דברים, Moshe’s final words to Klal Yisrael, and the Torah. The Parsha is intriguing and perplexing. Due to the festive time of year it falls out, this Parsha is often overlooked concerning its deeper meaning. It seems simple, Moshe delivers his final words, he dies, Joshua takes over, and Klal Yisrael prepares to enter Israel. But, there is so much more.  

The Slonimer Rebbe finds eternal meaning in the last pasuk of the Torah. וּלְכֹל֙ הַיָּ֣ד הַחֲזָקָ֔ה וּלְכֹ֖ל הַמּוֹרָ֣א הַגָּד֑וֹל אֲשֶׁר֙ עָשָׂ֣ה מֹשֶׁ֔ה לְעֵינֵ֖י כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ And for all the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel. 

The Roshei Teivot of the last resounding words, לְעֵינֵ֖י כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל, can be arranged to spell out כלי, vessel. With that understanding, the Beit Avraham teaches that the last letter of the Torah is evidently “ל”, and the first, “ב”, which spell out לב. Our hearts are the vessels with which we perceive and internalize the Torah. This notion is furthered with the following teaching of Pirkei Avot, 

אָמַר לָהֶם, צְאוּ וּרְאוּ אֵיזוֹהִי דֶרֶךְ יְשָׁרָה שֶׁיִּדְבַּק בָּהּ הָאָדָם. רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר אוֹמֵר, עַיִן טוֹבָה. רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אוֹמֵר, חָבֵר טוֹב. רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אוֹמֵר, שָׁכֵן טוֹב. רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, הָרוֹאֶה אֶת הַנּוֹלָד. רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אוֹמֵר, לֵב טוֹב. אָמַר לָהֶם, רוֹאֶה אֲנִי אֶת דִּבְרֵי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲרָךְ מִדִּבְרֵיכֶם, שֶׁבִּכְלָל דְּבָרָיו דִּבְרֵיכֶם. Rabban Yohanan said unto them: go forth and observe which is the right way to which a man should cleave? Rabbi Eliezer said, a good eye; Rabbi Joshua said, a good companion; Rabbi Yose said, a good neighbor; Rabbi Shimon said, foresight. Rabbi Elazar said a good heart. He [Rabban Yohanan] said to them: I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach, for in his words your words are included.

A good heart is the primary means by which we able to be מקבל Torah. It encapsulates the necessity of an עין טובה, a חבר טוב, and שכן טוב. Through emphasizing this strong foundation of righteousness, we are able to reach and strive higher in our growth.

This was the message with which Moshe left Bnei Yisrael. לְעֵינֵ֖י כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל, he lifted the eyes of Bnei Yisrael—  They already had a good heart, here they were inspired to especially have an עין טובה as they embarked on their journey of ישוב ארץ ישראל. 

The deep meaning behind Moshe’s final words is everlasting. But, one might come to Question Moshe’s willpower to deliver a message of such inspiration along with his dismal circumstances. Moshe— who led Bnei Yisrael out Mitzrayim, and served as the greatest prophet of all time, who’s characterized and called, משה רבינו, our Rav— This same Moshe couldn’t enter Israel. You and I can enter Israel, but Moshe couldn’t. It is this fact that has bothered Torah scholars for generations.

To make some sense of an unanswerable question, we turn to the first pasuk of our Parsha. וְזֹ֣את הַבְּרָכָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר בֵּרַ֥ךְ מֹשֶׁ֛ה אִ֥ישׁ האלקים אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל לִפְנֵ֖י מוֹתֽוֹ׃ This is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, bade the Israelites farewell before he died.

Here Moshe is ascribed the honorary title איש האלקים, the man of God. This title is only found here in Vezot Habracha. Only at the end of Moshe’s life, and the end of the Torah is Moshe given this title. Why now? 

The אורח חיים notes that the  “ו” at the beginning of our Parsha marks a connection between this portion and last week’s. At the end of האזינו, Moshe climbs to the top of הר נבו and sees Israel. Moreover, Rashi intriguingly notes that not only did Moshe see Israel at that present moment— he saw it until this very moment. He saw the entirety of Israel encapsulated in a moment glimpse Hashem let him have. Imagine something which you’ve wanted for years. You’ve worked and directed all your efforts towards this. Then ultimately, after years of waiting and longing, unfortunately, you’re only able to see it. The natural reaction of man would be to retreat, to draw back out of frustration and sorrow. Nevertheless, Moshe Rabbeinu not only persists, but he also delivers eternal words of encouragement to Klal Yisrael. Moshe significantly deterred from the normative reaction— for that he is called איש האלקים. He negated himself for a higher purpose. Although we may come to question as much as Moshe did, we understand the greatnesses which he reached and aspire to do so as well. This is an essential message for our זמנים now.

Like the “ו” in this week’s Parsha, we are certainly meant to connect the Yamim Noraim, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. After days of soulful repentance, prayer, and fasting, we celebrate the seemingly opposing holiday of Sukkot. Following Yom Kippur, the day in which we abstain from the physical, we celebrate a holiday that embodies the physical. We are commanded to build a sukkah— to sit, sleep, and eat inside of it. Then, we have the Arbah Minim which we bring in conjunction, bless, and shake. Perhaps there is meaning behind such opposing themes. Once a year we elevate ourselves like Melachim— nonetheless, it is not an ideal existence. Sometimes we think Kedusha is only found if we propel ourselves upwards and leave the physical world. Yet, to be Godly is to be human, but, to mekadesh reality— exactly like Moshe did. 

During Sukkot, after days of such heightened divinity, we are challenged to create Kedusha rather than chase it. We are commanded to uplift what can simply be mundane activities to purely spiritual ones. As we leave the days in which our “vessels” are emptied of sin and filled with goodness, our goals should be directed towards filling them with acts of righteousness. As Moshe had in mind all of Klal Yisrael, so should we. 

The Rav, in Reflections of the Rav, quotes the beautiful Midrash about the symbolism behind the Arbah Minim. The Etrog, which has both a delectable taste and smell embodies the Tzadikim of Am Yisrael who possess Torah knowledge and good deeds. The Lulav, which is a date palm, contains taste but lacks smell. This embodies those Jews filled with Torah, but who are lacking good deeds. Next, the Haddasim, myrtle branches, are only fragrant and lack taste. These are the Jews who act with Maasim Tom but don’t have Torah knowledge. Lastly, the Aravot, willow branches, lack both taste and smell, representing those Jews which lack both good deeds and Torah knowledge. With this understanding, we are commanded to band together all 4 minim in completion of the Bracha. Only once all minim are together in unity may we complete the Bracha. This is the same for our nation. We need every type of Jew as all Arbah Minim are necessary. This message is illustrated further with the approaching Chag of Simchat Torah. As we move in circles around the Bima, parading our prized Torahs— we move equally and equidistant, in unity circling around the Altar. The Rav writes, “Only when we are bound together in a spirit of mutual concern is it a blessing for the Jewish people”. 

As Moshe eloquently withdrew of himself for Klal Yisrael, so should we. He portrayed the pinnacle of his message to us— to live directed by our hearts, filling our vessels with good deeds. There is not a better placement for this week’s Parsha then now. As we are in the times of Sukkot and approach Simchat Torah, may we elevate our realities. As we sit in the Sukkah, shake our Lulavs, and dance with the Torah, may we be Zoche to elevate our actions, individually and collectively, for the betterment of ourselves and our nation. May we live with our hearts directed towards righteousness looking to fill ourselves with growth and blessing. 

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

About the Author
Yael Evgi grew up in Queens, New York, and attended YUHSG for high school. Yael was involved in NCSY and became chapter president in sophomore more year. She became a FIRE fellow in YUHSG, helping with the creation of Jewish programming. She was class president in her senior year. Yael studied in Israel at Midreshet Moriah for a year and a half. Yael's passion continues today in Stern as she studies Psychology and Judaic studies, hoping to serve Jewish communities in the future.
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