Parshat V’zot Habracha & Transition

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29 Jun 2006
Simchat Torah

On Simchat Torah, we read Parshat V’zot HaBracha. At first glance, it seems only appropriate that this portion be read, as the very foundation of Simchat Torah is the siyum (completion) of the Torah. However, if we probe a bit further, we will see that V’zot ha-Bracha is quite unusual.

TransitionV’zot ha-Bracha is a parsha of conclusion. It is the end of the Torah as well as the culmination of Moshe Rabbeinu’s life. Nevertheless, one gets a sense that this is a unique type of conclusion when contrasted with other Torah texts which portray the closing of a specific period or Biblical book.

Parshat Vayechi represents the conclusion of Sefer Breishit and the end of the life of Yaakov Avinu. Still, Vayechi contains much information about Jewish life in Mitzrayim after Yaakov, and a transition into Sefer Shemot is presented in the parsha with the entrenchment of Bnei Yisrael into Egypt and the promises of redemption by Yosef, as well as the clearly temporary internment of his bones, pointing to their retrieval at the time of geula. Similarly, Dovid ha-Melech’s life terminates at the beginning of Sefer Melachim, but a clear transition into the Solomonic period is made in the text, as the psukim are focused primarily on Dovid’s commands to Shlomo as to how to govern once Shlomo is enthroned. On the other hand, V’zot ha-Bracha is devoted to the greatness of Torah and the death of Moshe, with no mention of the future entry of Bnei Yisrael into the Promised Land. Even the leadership of Yehoshua is mentioned only once (34:9). Why, thus, is there no transition in V’zot ha-Bracha? Why is it a conclusion without a future?

I think that the answer lies in the very theme of V’zot ha-Bracha. What is the parsha’s theme? Indeed, the parsha contains the blessings/prophecies applicable to the shevatim (tribes) with an introduction about the greatness of Torah and Bnei Yisrael’s relationship with God and Torah. The parsha also details Moshe Rabbeinu’s vision of the Holy Land and future Jewish life therein (Rashi from Sifri, 34:1-3). The unique level of prophecy attained by Moshe and his virtues, as well as his death, conclude the parsha. Is there any one theme which unites these various topics?

It can be suggested that V’zot ha-Bracha constitutes the sealing of the Torah. Dictation of the Written and Oral Torah from God to Moshe were completed, and – as only Moshe’s nevuah (prophecy) was itself Torah from Hashem – the death of Moshe was per se the end of divine Torah law and revelation. In other words, Moshe was unique in that his level of prophecy enabled him to transmit Torah directly from God. All later prophets received only visions which they needed to interpret into their own terms and words. The visions of these prophets could neither add to nor override Torah, as their nevuot were of an inferior status to those of Moshe Rabbeinu. On the other hand, Moshe Rabbeinu’s nevuah was like a “aspaklaria ha’meira” (a clear lens), for only he was able to directly communicate with God and receive direct words of Torah – words which themselves were the text of the Torah. (See Ramchal in Derech Hashem.) Thus, V’zot ha-Bracha is the conclusion of Torah, as only Moshe was qualified to transmit Torah via his prophetic vision, and the termination of Moshe’s life was by definition the end of Torah. The parsha thus contains no transition to the future, as its whole point is to delineate the uniqueness of the Torah period of Moshe and its finality, representative of the ultimate, irreversible conclusion of Torah transmission.

It is thus understood why the greatness of Moshe is presented in the parsha. Moshe’s unusual qualities are not merely elaborated upon as a last ode to him; rather, they are presented as the very factors which warrant his prophecy as constituting Torah, and his death is dramatized as the conclusion of divine revelation of Torah law.

In fact, the same may be said of the panoramic present and future view of the Jewish People in their land which Moshe was shown by God at the end of Moshe’s life. Just as all later elucidation of Torah law is limited to the Torah statutes given to Moshe Rabbeinu (as one may neither add to nor detract from any mitzvot, nor may he negate them in any way), so too is all prophecy after Moshe Rabbeinu mere elaboration of the general futuristic visions which Moshe already experienced and recorded for Bnei Yisrael. Thus, just as the Torah concludes the divine transmission of Torah with a description of the unparalleled and unique qualifications of Moshe Rabbeinu in order to indicate that the end of Moshe’s life equaled the end and sealing of Torah dictation and revelation, the Torah likewise presents us with a concluding nevuah of Moshe which itself forms the basis for all future nevuah, as nevuah – similar to Torah law – would not be created afresh or revamped after Moshe, for Moshe’s entire prophecy was conclusive, and all facets of it – both law and future prophecy – are immutable and final Torah.

Although V’zot ha-Bracha represents the sealing and conclusion of Torah, it must be understood that this idea only refers to the expression of Torah in human terms and in this world. Chazal (our sages) taught that the malachim (angels) objected to God giving the Torah to Am Yisrael, and that the Torah was initially offered to others as well (Midrash), and the Zohar states that “God looked into the Torah and created the world.” It is thus clear that Torah existed from time immemorial. The unique Torah revelation referred to in V’zot ha-Bracha is that of God’s transmission and expression of the Torah in this world and in human terms. In this sense, the Torah was completed upon Moshe Rabbeinu’s death, and V’zot ha-Bracha is the end of Torah law and prophecy. Revelation and expression of Torah to us was thereby completed, although the Torah as a transcendent entity always existed.

In light of this notion, we can understand why the parsha devotes many psukim to the relationship of God, Torah and Klal Yisrael, as well as to the giving of the Torah. For the entirety of the parsha is focused on the completion of Torah expression to human existence, and the three-way relationship (Hashem, Torah, Yisrael) form the chain for this expression, which was formally commenced at Har Sinai.

I will not go into a detailed discussion of the brachot/nevuot given to the shevatim, but suffice it to say that the praiseworthy concepts contained in these passages reflect each shevet’s role and relationship to Torah as it is manifest in this world1. This is why the Torah presents an overview of the three-way relationship as an introduction to the brachot/nevuot, as the brachot/nevuot are an embodiment of the overall theme of the parsha – the completion of Torah revelation and its expression in human terms.