Birchot Moshe – Blessings of Moshe

June 7, 2006

Moshe Rabbeinu, faithful servant of HaShem and faithful shepherd of the Children of Israel, blessed the twelve tribes, and sometimes the founders of those tribes, on the last day of his life. The Torah details his blessings in the thirty third chapter of Sefer Devarim. Many years earlier, Yaakov Avinu had blessed his twelve sons on the last day of his life, as described in Bereshit (49:1-28)

Moshe begins by praising the People of Israel in general, for accepting the Torah, while the other nations of the world turned the great gift down.

A synopsis of what Moshe said to each of the Tribes follows:

Reuven (Devarim 33:6): “May Reuven live and not die…” Moshe prayed for Reuven, that his great sin in connection with Bilhah should not exclude him from the “World-to-Come.”

Yehudah (Devarim 33:7): “…and return him to his people…” Moshe prayed that Yehudah be released from his oath whereby he had excluded himself from the “World-to-Come” if he did not return Binyamin to Yaakov (Bereshit 43:9), which strictly speaking he had failed to do. “Hearken, HaShem, to the voice of Yehudah…” Here we see a hint that a blessing was granted to the tribe of Shimon, for Yehudah prayed for them, although Moshe had omitted them, because of the sin of repugnant immorality that the Tribe of Shimon and its Prince had committed at Shitim.

Levi (Devarim 33:8-11): Moshe praised the Tribe of Levi for its exemplary behavior in the Wilderness and for its non-participation in the various rebellions mounted by other Tribes. “For they have observed Your Word and Your Covenant they preserved…” they deserved Your great gift – appointing Aharon (a Levite) as High Priest, and his descendants, the Priestly Family, and the Tribe of Levi as a whole the right to serve with the Priests in the Mishkan and, later, in the Temple.

Binyamin (Devarim 33:12): Moshe refers to Binyamin as “Yedid HaShem,” the “Friend of HaShem,” upon whom the Divine Presence can rest with assurance. For the Temples would be built in the territorial portion of Binyamin in Yerushalayim.

Yoseph (Devarim 33:13-17): Moshe blesses Yoseph with words similar to those used in “Birchot Yaakov,” the Blessings of Yaakov (Bereshit 49:22-26). He blesses Yoseph with “…the heavenly bounty of dew, and with the deep waters crouching below… with the quick-ripening crops of the ancient mountains, and with the bounty of the eternal hills…May this blessing rest upon Yoseph’s head, and upon the crown of him who was separated from his brothers.”

Zevulun and Yissachar (Devarim 33:18-19): Moshe refers to the partnership of Zevulun and Yissachar, whereby the former would sail the seas in commercial ventures and support the partner-Tribe of his brother, Yissachar, who dedicated themselves to the study of Torah. He wished success for Zevulun and equal success for Yissachar in the study of Torah, and service on the Sanhedrin in determining the Hebrew Calendar and the times of the “Roshei Chodoshim,” the beginnings of Months.

Gad (Devarim 33:20-21): Moshe wished continued success to this Tribe, that would guard the border of Israel, which is the reason they were compared to lions. As Yaakov had, he alluded prophetically to the faithfulness that Gad would demonstrate, when they would cross the Yarden (the Jordan River) to assist the rest of the tribes in the conquest of the Land of Israel from the Canaanite Nations, before returning to their chosen portion, on the eastern side of the Yarden.

Dan (Devarim 33:22): Moshe compares this Tribe as well to lions, for they also guarded the borders of the Land of Israel. “…leaping forth from the Bashan” – referring to the fact that the source of the Yarden was in its portion of the land of Israel, in the Cave of Pamyas.

Naphtali (Devarim 33:23): Moshe describes the portion of Naphtali in the Land of Israel as extremely pleasant for all its inhabitants. It includes the delightful “Yam Kinneret,” the Sea of Galilee.

Asher (Devarim 33:24): “Blessed with children will be Asher” – This refers to the fact that Asher was blessed with a very large number of children. Asher would enjoy an especially cordial relationship with the other Tribes, for two reasons: First of all, they had an abundance of the highest-grade oil, which they would exchange for the produce of the other Tribes. Secondly, they produced daughters of such unusual beauty and piety that they were fit to marry the High Priests.

Moshe concludes his words (Devarim 33:25-29) with the blessing that Israel’s borders be sealed against their enemies with the Help of their Great Protector in Heaven, “Fortunate are you, O Israel, Who is like you? A People saved by HaShem, the Shield of your Help, Who is the Sword of your Grandeur.”