V’zot Ha’bracha: Moses Teaches Us How To Die

(This piece is adapted from a talk I delivered on Yom Kippur, 1997)

V’zot ha’bracha asher berach Moshe, ish ha’elohim, et B’nai Yisrael lifnei moto.

This is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, bade the Children of Israel farewell before he died. (Deuteronomy 33:1)

That poignant line opens the very last portion of the entire Torah, V’zot Ha’bracha – “This Is the Blessing.” Oddly, this is the one and only Torah portion that is never read as part of the annual weekly cycle of reading. The only time it is heard in synagogue is on the holiday of Simchat Torah, which falls this year on this coming Monday evening, October 5. Because V’zot Ha’bracha is not part of the regular rhythm of Torah readings, we don’t study this portion with regularity.

The parsha begins with a lengthy poem in which Moses gives a specific blessing to each of the tribes of Israel. Then in the final chapter of the Torah we hear about Moses’ death: “Moses ascended from the plains of Moab to the summit of Mount Nebo, across from Jericho, and YHVH showed him the entire land…” (Deut. 34:1)

Moses looks out over the entire Promised Land, which he will never enter, and he dies on the mountaintop. The people mourn, and the Torah ends, “Never again did there arise a prophet like Moses, who knew YHVH face to face…and displayed YHVH’s great and awesome might before all of Israel.” (Deut. 34:10, 12)

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