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Parashot

V'Zot Ha'Berakhah (and this is the blessing)

Deuteronomy 33:1 to 34:12, Joshua 1:1-18

Notes

Notice Deuteronomy also begins with Moses blessing the people (verse 1:11).

This time it is the tribe of Shimon that is neglected in a listing of the "twelve" tribes.

Verse 33:3 reads, "Yes, he loves the nations; all his holy ones are in your hand and they sat down at your feet receiving your words." This is a beautiful picture of people being cared for and taught by God, whether we consder these "holy ones of the nations" to be ancient Israelites separated from the Gentile nations or all those of any nationality who are now among God's holy ones.

Traditional Jewish Commentary

Why does the blessing begin with the narrative verses 33:2-5? The sages explain that a blessing has no potency unless the person giving the blessing has authority over the person receiving the blessing: parents can bless their children, kings can bless their subjects, priests can bless their laity, etc. Different rabbis interpret verses 33:4-5 differently—is Moshe claiming the authority of prophet with Adonai as king, or is Moshe both prophet and like a king? But all agree that these verses are establishing the credibility and potency of what follows in the blessing.

Oddly, Asher is elevated above his brothers in verse 33:24.

Shimon is not blessed, so this tribe that dwelt in the territory later called Yehudah shared in the blessing for Yehudah. The Gemara, in Perek Makom Shenahagu, adds that Shimon produced many famous scribes and teachers, and thus was in effect blessed by lacking the distractions of wealth and thus having more ability to foucs on Torah while living within the territory of Yehudah.

Rabbi Isserle taught that Levi is praised before it is blessed since Moshe, in his humility, felt a need to justify Levi receiving its blessing. Thus no one could complain that Moshe was favoring Levi.

The final eight verses of Deuteronomy describe Moshe's death and events afterwards. There is an apparent contradiction with the Rabbinical claim that Moshe wrote all the Torah. The contradiction is resolved as follows, and shows the lengths to which some people will go to defend their concept of "truth". Rambam claimed that before Moshe (indeed, before creation) all the letters in the entire Torah were arranged to list names of God. The Gro extends Rambam's idea: for the final eight verses Moshe wrote these names of God, and later Yehoshua was given permission from God to rearrange the letters into their current verses. Thus Moshe did write all the letters of Torah, but did not lie in describing his own death prematurely. Do you or I concoct similarly unreasonable arguments to defend our own perspectives of Biblical "truth"?

The Or ha'Chayim commends Moshe after noticing the "and" linking verses 32:52 and 33:1. Moshe was just reminded that he would die: a death in part caused by the people's frustrating behavior. But Moshe blesses the people instead of acting vengeful.

The Tz'enah Ur'enah ends by explaining how Zevulon, living in port cities, would be more at risk for being corrupted by neighboring peoples but also more protected for they would be producing the blue tchelet dye for tzitzit. The Shittim river is called especially dangerous, but then the Tz'enah Ur'enah concludes with:

When Mashiach comes the evil inclination will be nullified. A river will come out from the Temple and will flood the Shittim River, as the verse says: and a fountain will come out of God's house and will water the valley of Shittim (Yoel 4:18). Amen, may it be His will.

Yehuda Katz notes a link between verses 34:5 and 34:7. Moshe was a true servant of God, and thus was protected by God from the debilitation of aging.