Moshe’s final blessings to each of the tribes…Moshe blesses all of Israel…Moshe views the land before his death… Moshe dies…Israelites mourn Moshe for thirty days…Previously-appointed Yehoshua assumes leadership
The only Parsha not read on Shabbos
This Parsha is read on Simchas Torah (or Shmeni Atzeres in Israel) when we celebrate the completion of the annual cycle of Torah reading and prepare to start restudying the Torah anew. “In the beginning” starts the saga of God’s selection of the Jewish people to adhere to His ethics and to become a role model for all Mankind. The blessings in the Parsha are followed by Moshe’s reassurance of God as Protector of Israel who provides help in battle and agricultural/economic prosperity
The Lubavich Rebbi opines that blessings in the world exist because of Torah observance and that the blessings here are greater than any of the others given earlier in the Torah. That the blessings are read on a day that though important, does not approach the spiritually uplifting atmosphere of Shabbos, suggests to the Rebbi that their power and their origin are from a higher source.
The man Moshe is...
• Moshe Rabenu , our teacher who transmitted the Torah law from God but did not create it
• Ish haelokim (the man of God), a description appearing nowhere else in the Torah
• Eved Hashem (servant of God)
• The one God singled out (v’lo kam navi owed b’yirael k’moshe)
• The only one who encountered God “face to face” (panim el panim)
The Blessings of Moshe
In the tradition of the Patriarch Yaakov, who blessed his sons before his death, Moshe blesses the tribes of the nation of Israel before his death. Yaakov spoke as the dying father to his sons, describing each one’s personality and potential, partly in explanation of why it was Yehuda who would ultimately be the one qualified to lead the nation. Because he was dealing with the destiny of each son, he blessed them in age order from oldest to youngest.
Moshe, on the other hand, was the dying leader who addressed the nation as they were about to enter the Promised Land. Therefore, opines Rabbi Menachem Leibtag, his blessings related to the tribes’ military conquest or to the quality of their specific territory inheritance. Rabbi Gunther Plaut notes that these blessings are a calm assessment of Israel’s past and future written in prose form yet displaying poetic rhythm. It contains obscure, rare and unique words.
Moshe is encourages each tribe to achieve its potential in the conquest of the Land and/or describes the characteristics of the territory (nachala) to be inherited. Following is Rabbi Leibtag’s hypothesis that the order of the tribes represents a combination of grouping by respective mothers and of geographic location of each tribe’s inheritance starting from south to north.
Reuven is first not because he is oldest but because he was the first tribe to get its inheritance. The blessing was meant to reassure Reuven that he would remain an official and full-fledged member of the tribes of Israel despite his having been cursed by Yaakov (because of the Bilhah incident) and despite electing to settle in Transjordan, outside the borders of Eretz Canaan.
Shimon is not included because his territory is within the borders of Yehuda. “As Shimon’s conquest and inheritance during the time period of Yehoshua will be almost negligible, his tribe is totally skipped ” states Rabbi Leibtag.
Yehuda’s blessing is about military leadership, enthusiasm and diligence. His territory, in the southernmost region of the land, will be the first to be conquered.
Levi’s blessing, though focusing on the responsibilities to provide spiritual leadership, is described in military terms. Levi was to be scattered throughout the country to teach Torah, but the tribal center is to be the Holy Temple in Yerushalayim. Levi did not receive a portion of land. Its “nachala” is “nachalas Hashem”, to serve in the Holy Temple-- which is located on the border of Yehuda and Binyamin. Therefore, Levi’s blessing follows Yehuda’s to the south but is before Benyamin’s to the north.
The Holy Temple in Yerushalayim is to be located in Benyamin’s territory which is north of Yehuda, but south of Efraim. The Mishkan was located in different cities within Binyamin.
The bountiful nature of Yosef’s land--located north of Binyamin-- will enable it to be the backbone of Israel’s agrarian society. Furthermore, Efraim and Menashe his sons will have the military might to defeat their enemies.
Zevulun and Yissachar’s territories are north of Yosef and span from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Zevulun’s military strength will provide protection along the seacoast. The ancient, important trade route connecting Egypt and Mesopotamia located in Yissachar’s territory in Emek Yizraeel will help it build its international trade and influence. Moreover, the fertile soil in Emek Yizraeel makes it ideal for both agriculture and livestock breeding.(Zevulun, the younger brother precedes Issachar possibly because that is the order in which their father Yaakov blessed them or because they are listed first in the apportionment of the land among the tribes in the Book of Yehoshua.)
Gad, who inherited first with Reuven in Transjordan, will be granted military prowess to enable the tribe to widen its inheritance.
Dan, near the western slopes of the Golan Heights and to the north of Yissachar and Zevulun, will have the military might to guard against enemy intrusion.
Naftali, located in the fertile Upper Galil to the north of Yissachar and Zevulun, is blessed with agriculture potential. Naftali also will be blessed with the military might to conquer its territory.
Asher, on the northern border --the “iron lock” protecting the country-- will be blessed with an abundance of olive trees (and olive oil).
Chazak Chazak V’nischazayk
Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!