KOHEN – 7 p’sukim (33:1-7)
The Torah announces the blessing of Moshe to the people, shortly before he dies. He begins by telling them that G-d gave us the Torah (after having offered it to other nations – Rashi’s interpretation of these verses) and He has a very special relationship with us because of it.
Moshe has taught us Torah, our Heritage; G-d is our King.
The Baal HaTurim points out that there are two things that are called MORASHA – Torah and Eretz Yisrael. The connotation of the word MORASHA (usually translated as Heritage) is that it is given to you but you must work at earning it and keeping it. We were given both, but we cannot be lazy about either Torah or Eretz Yisrael, lest we lose either or both, G-d forbid.
G’matriya – maybe the most famous one – This verse is cited in the famous Talmudic source for the existence of 613 mitzvot in the Torah. The verse says that Moshe taught us TORAH = 400+6+200+5 = 611 mitzvot, and the other 2 were heard directly from G-d (this based on the description of the events at Sinai – namely, that G-d began presenting the Aseret HaDibrot directly to us and after ANOCHI and LO Y’H’YEH L’CHA the people panicked and were afraid to hear G-d’s Voice directly.
Next is Moshe’s blessings to REUVEN and YEHUDA. Reuven is blessed with life in this world and the next, and with always being counted. Yehuda is likewise blessed, with the additional blessing of great strength and G-d’s help in fighting on behalf of his brethren.
(Some see the word SHMA in Yehuda’s blessing as an allusion to SHIMON – same root – since he is otherwise not mentioned among the blessings. The other possibility is that Moshe omitted Shimon because of the Zimri fiasco.)
LEVI – 5 p’sukim (33:8-12)
LEVI is blessed for their service to G-d in the Beit HaMikdash as Kohanim and Levi’im. He/they are also praised for not participating in the Sin of the Golden Calf. The tribe of Levi were to be the teachers of Torah to Israel. They were also blessed to be given great strength.
Then comes the bracha to BINYAMIN, who is called by the beautiful name – YEDID HASHEM, the beloved of G-d.
‘Rashi explains that Levi and Binyamin are next to each other in the Blessings because Levi did the service in the Beit HaMikdash and it was on Binyamin’s territory that the Beit HaMikdash was built. Yosef follows, because of the Mishkan in Shilo that was in his allotment. Binyamin is before Yosef, because Yerushalayim is more precious to HaShem than Shilo. Levi is first. Fits with the B’ha’alot’cha-Nesi’im connection.
SH’LISHI: 5 p’sukim (33:13-17)
This whole portion is the blessing to YOSEF. These tribes (remember that Yosef is Efraim and Menashe) are blessed with prosperity and leadership.
R’VI’I – 4 verses (33:18-21)
YISSACHAR and ZEVULUN are blessed together – and they remained “partner tribes” with scholarship and success in (sea) commerce. There is allusion to the famous partnership between these two tribes, with Yissachar studying Torah and Zevulun supporting their brothers, and receiving equal reward and credit.
GAD’s blessing contains reference to his having taken the first part of the Land and of having treaures (possibly the burial place of Moshe Rabeinu) in its territory.
CHAMISHI: 5 verses (33:22-26)
DAN is likened to a young lion in his bracha.
NAPHTALI is blessed with great prosperity and/or great contentment in what it receives.
And finally, ASHER is blessed with great numbers and prosperity.
The final verse of this portion returns to the praise of G-d that began the portion of Moshe’s blessings.
Some shuls have the custom of calling to the Torah the senior member of the congregation or another elderly gentle man deemed worthy of the honor to the final Aliya (not counting the Chatanim or Maftir) of the final round of readings. He is called “together with all young boys (those not receiving their own Aliya) – KOL HA’N’ARIM. A CHUPA is made over the Shulchan with a large Talit and the young lads are to join with the Oleh in reciting the brachot. The one so honored usually (but by no means always) sponsors the bags of goodies for the youngsters in shul.
CHATAN TORAH 15 verses (33:27-34:12)
An elaborate calling up passage is sing- songed (or is it sing-sung) by the Gabbai, calling the Chatan Torah to the Torah for the completion of the sedra of VZOT HABRACHA, the book of D’VARIM, and the whole Torah. The honor is by merit in some shuls – a diligent worker for the community, and is “purchased” with a large pledge in others. Some shuls auction off the special honors of Simchat Torah. Others use a random drawing among members to avoid jealousy.
Moshe’s praise of G-d continues. Then Moshe tells the People that their collective blessing from G-d will be security and prosperity.
This portion concludes with the beautiful ASHRECHA YISRAEL, MI CHAMOCHA – happy are you, Israel, for who is like you? Who else has G-d’s promise of protection and help in your battles.
(It is obvious that we were to have earned the fulfillment of these blessings by our faithfulness to G-d and the Torah. Sometimes we have merited these blessings, and sometimes…)
Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak (in Gemara Brachot) asks: What is written in G-d’s T’fillin? Rabbi Chiya bar Avin answered that this verse: ASHRECHA YISRAEL is written there. What the Gemara is saying is that there is a mutual love between G-d and the People of Israel. Our T’fillin proclaims that G-d is our G-d, and that He is One. His T’fillin proclaims G-d’s “opinion” that there is no other natio in the world that is like us. We belong to a mutual admiration society.
The Torah next relates to us the poignant story of Moshe’s “death”. Moshe ascends Mt. Nevo and G-d shows him the complete Land of Israel. Then G-d tells him, one last time, that this is the Land promised to the People of Israel; you (Moshe) have seen it now, but you will not go there. (Rashi says that Moshe saw the Land so that he would be able to report to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, that G-d’s promises to them was about to be fulfilled.)
The final 8 verses of the Torah speak of Moshe dying. There is a famous controversy as to whether Moshe wrote these verses, or his successor Yehoshua did.
Moshe, the servant of HaShem, dies in the land of Moav, by G-d’s command (or by a Divine Kiss). G-d Himself buries Moshe, and no one knows Moshe’s burial place, even unto this day.
Moshe was 120 years old at his death, with full powers and undiminished faculties.
The people mourn and cry for Moshe for 30 days.
Yehoshua has received full authority to succeed Moshe as leader.
No one ever did or would match Moshe for his direct communication with G-d, and for all of G-d’s miracles that were performed through and/or by Moshe, in the full sight of all of Israel.
When the final word of the Torah is read, the congregation responds with a loud CHAZAK, CHAZAK, V’NITCHAZEIK. The Torah reader repeats that phrase, but the Chatan Torah should NOT say it, as it would constitute an interruption between the Torah reading and his closing bracha.
CHATAN B’REISHIT 34 verses – B’reishit 1:1-2:3
After the Torah is competed, it is lifted and rolled and “dressed”. The Gabbai, once again, elaborately calls to the Torah the other main honoree of Simchat Torah, CHATAN B’REISHIT.
The beginning of the Torah – the account of Creation is read, so that immediately upon completion of the Torah, we close the circle by starting it again. Details of this portion, IY”H, later in this double issue of TT (or maybe not).
Before the second Torah is lifted, the third Torah is placed next to the second on the Shulchan, and CHATZI- KADDISH is said. Then the second Torah is lifted, rolled, and “dressed” and the Maftir is called to the Torah.
MAFTIR – 6 verses – Bamidbar 29:35-30:1
As on all Holidays, the Maftir is from Pinchas and describes the Musaf sacrifice of the day.
After HAGBAHA and GALILA of the third Torah, the HAFTARA is read.
HAFTARA – 18 verses – Yehoshua 1:1-18
The first chapter of Yehoshua begins where the Torah left off, with Moshe Rabeinu having just died. Yehoshua is charged with the responsibility of leading the People and bringing them across the Jordan River into the Land of Israel. G-d repeatedly encourages him and tells him to be strong, steadfast, and faithful to the Torah.
Yehoshua then prepares the people to cross the river, and reminds the people of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe of their commitment to fight at the side of their brothers, even though their territory is on the East Bank of the Jordan.
All the people commit themselves to following Yehoshua as they had faithfully followed Moshe.
The significance of following the end of the Torah with the beginning is beautifully illustrated by R. Yaakov Auerbach z”l. He observes that Parshat Vzot HaBracha contains 512 words. And the opening portion of B’reishit – the account of Creation – contains 469 words. Together: 981 words. Take the pasuk: V’Atem Ha’D’Veikim BaSHEM Elokeichem Chaim Kulchem Shalom. Its numeric value is 6+1+400+40 (447) + 5+4+2+ 100+10+40 (161) 2+26 (28) + 1+30+ 5+10+20+40 (106) + 8+10+10+40 (68) + 20+30+20+40 (110) + 5+10+6 +40 (61) = 981.