Introduction - This portion is the final portion of the Torah. Its completion occurs on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, which means literally rejoicing in the Torah. It’s accompanied by dancing and singing, which we won’t do today. But the holiday is also accompanied by reading the first verses of Bereshith, Genesis, which we will do today, to celebrate the idea that the study of God’s word continues seamlessly with no end at all to it. On this holiday, we “start” Torah on the very day we “end” it. Simchat Torah this year is this Tuesday, so while we’ve lagged the Jewish cycle each week by a day, we lead it in completion this week by two days.
Today we’ll study Moses’ blessing of the people, and we’ll have the final exam we discussed. This will be wonderful.
I. Read 33:1. This is the blessing Moses gives the people before he dies. The text calls Moses the man of God. What does that mean?
(Possibilities suggested by sages: Inspired by God. Prophet. Blessings will be fulfilled. Moses had truly and with fidelity served God. He loved people wholeheartedly and was a model for us all - to be people of God - and taught us in order that we be so. Wise, strong, principled, and kindly.
Also, Moses returns to hopefulness, intimacy, supportiveness, and mercy, as God does.)
II. Read 2-5. Why does Moses start the blessing with these verses? What do they say fundamentally about our relationship in covenant with God?
(Ramban: God dwells among us; we accept the Torah God gives us; and we acknowledge God’s sovereignty. Also, God comes from Sinai and in so many opportunities of encounter.
Lover of peoples. Whether this is Moses or God, or both, is a bit unclear; but it’s quite a name!)
III. We’ll forego the treatment of all the tribes, though I encourage you to study them on your own. Just as we found great value in studying Jacob’s blessings, this is also extraordinary, especially in understanding the place of each tribe and seeing how a community is built out of separate tribes.
A. I do want you to note a few of them, such as in 8-11. Recall the very different blessing Moses gives Levi than did Jacob. We discussed this at length earlier, focusing on the remarkable and vital role this tribe came to assume in teaching and facilitating our nearness to God. We see in the blessing of Levi as well as that of several tribes the premium placed on closeness to God, service of God and love of brothers, teshuvah, and choosing life.
B. The blessing of Joseph is beautiful, of course. Note the dew and the deep waters that cause us to recall our discussion of waters last week, suggesting the richness of spirituality in Joseph and how it speaks to us throughout all time. One can’t miss also in these verses the sweetness and lusciousness in the yield of crops and fruits, suggesting fertility and the most desirable qualities of production generally.
C. Verse 18 is fun. What do you think the sages read this relationship of these brothers to mean?
(Despite the fact, but maybe including the fact, that the tribe of Issachar historically was involved in agriculture, one lovely explanation of this text is that Zebulun was successful in maritime commerce and supported Issachar in his study of Torah, and Issachar supported Zebulun by bringing God’s word to life for him and the community. More broadly, we think here of the virtue of using our material resources to support the spiritual in our lives as well as the importance of God’s word in our living well in the world. Shouldn’t each of us have a bit of each of these brothers in each of us?
Keep the idea of Moses’ intertwined blessing of these brothers and their relationship in your minds as a model to remember.)
IV. God shows Moses the promised land that, though he will shortly die, will be the fulfillment of his work and the covenant promise. Read 34:5. What strikes you most about this amazing verse.
(Moses dies as the servant of God. This is an even higher notion than man of God, more one of God’s trusted minister. It reveals his fundamental purpose in life as well as his extraordinary service and contribution to God and the people. It surely also shows us a fine model for lives, too.
This notion of “by the mouth of God” - what does that mean to you?
Rashi says it was a kiss, a sort of ultimate favor to Moses, or a servant of God. So, the God who breathes life in at birth kisses upon death. Others say this is with the word of God, or at God’s command.)
IV. Read 10-12. The final words are that all of Moses’ service to God was “before the eyes of all Israel.” What could that mean to us?
(This whole of God’s word that we studied this year and will continue to study is laid out before our eyes for our benefit for us as a guide in living in covenant with God.)
V. I know we’re not celebrating Simchat Torah here. But there’s a custom in study on that day to begin the study of Genesis on the day when Deuteronomy is completed, as if to say that there is no end to our study of God’s word. So, in that spirit, let’s just read Genesis 1:1-2, so that, in effect, we dedicate ourselves to the continuing study here next week, and God willing, in all weeks to come.
V. “Final Exam” - Discussion of answers to this question: We’ve now completed our year long journey through the Torah. What are your main takeaways, lessons or impressions that seem to have most powerfully stuck with you in our study and discussion and that you believe you’ll most likely carry forward with you?