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Parashat V’Zot haBerachah / Sukkot 5780 — 10/19/2019

Parashat V’Zot haBerachah / Sukkot 5780 — 10/19/2019

Devarim 33:1-34:12

As we have mentioned several times in the past, Parashat V’Zot haBrachah is never read on Shabbat in the Diaspora, where Simchat Torah follows Shemini Atzeret. (In Israel, where Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret are the same day, that day can fall on Shabbat.) There is a special reading for this Shabbat, and V’Zot haBrachah will be read on Tuesday. Since R. Goldin makes a very profound point in his discussion of V’Zot haBrachah, I’m going to take the liberty of writing on that, rather than on Sukkot.

The very last verses in the Torah are a paean to Moshe Rabbeinu:

Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moshe, whom Gd knew face to face, as manifest by all the signs and wonders that Gd sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and all his land, and by all the strong hand and awesome power that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Israel (34:10-12).

Various commentators have assigned meanings to each phrase: signs, wonders, strong hand and awesome power, before the eyes of all Israel. All of them look to the miracles that Moshe performed / Gd performed through Moshe. The one exception seems to be Rashi to the expression “before the eyes of all Israel.” Rashi writes: [This phrase alludes to the fact that Moshe’s] heart moved him to shatter the Tablets of Testimony before their eyes, as the text states, ‘and I shattered them before your eyes.’ [Rashi to 34:12] What, R. Goldin asks, was so significant about Moshe’s smashing the two Tablets that Gd had given him that it should be the parting words of Torah?

R. Goldin points out that of all the episodes that the commentators associate with the last few phrases of the Torah, the shattering of the Tablets was the only one that was done by Moshe himself, of his own volition, based on his own judgment of the situation:

According to Rashi, the Torah wants us to remember Moshe as great, but not as greater than life. The Torah wants its last snapshot to picture Moshe not in his role as a prophet, not in his role as a miracle worker, but in his role as a man, making real-life decisions in real-life situations. By emphasizing Moshe’s mortality and the aspect of commonality that he shares with us all, the Torah allows us to learn critical personal lessons from this great leader as he exits the historical stage.

In all probability, none of us will be faced within our lifetimes with the challenges of parting a sea, bringing forth water from a rock or summoning food from heaven. Gd will expect us, however, to consistently act in consonance with Torah values and traditions, even when the path before us is not clear and the decisions to be made are difficult and complex. The Torah therefore focuses in the end on the single most important independent act performed by Moshe during his leadership career: a non-miraculous act – a voluntary step taken when he stands alone, without guidance from Gd, with everything hanging in the balance.

There could be then no more appropriate close for the Torah, Rashi believes, than a reference to the shattering of the tablets. The lessons that emerge during this episode, both from Moshe’s personal example and from the message that his actions convey, strike to the very core and purpose of Gd’s Book. Ultimately, the Torah’s goal is the refinement of man: the shaping of individuals and communities who will naturally “do the right thing” and thereby sanctify Gd’s name.

Throughout our journey with R. Goldin, he has constantly emphasized the practical value of Torah to refine our thinking and our behavior so that we can act spontaneously in accord with Gd’s Will. We have seen that Torah itself is “Gd speaking to Himself” – Gd’s Word is Gd’s internal dynamics, the laws of nature that structure all levels of cosmic life. This same structure is available in our own consciousness, as the Midrash tells us – an angel teaches us all of Torah in the womb, but we forget it when we are born and begin to project ourselves outward. Torah is telling us to turn inward, unfold Torah from within ourselves and become perfect reflectors of Gd’s perfection. Torah begins with Gd’s perfection, and ends with the possibility of our living that perfection in our daily lives.

Chazak! Chazak! v’nitchazeik!


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat V’Zot haBrachah

Sukkot/Hoshannah Rabba/Shemini Atzeres/Simchat Torah

Sukkot, the celebration of God’s protection as we dwell in fragile huts – symbolically, our human physiology – concludes with Simchat Torah, on which day we conclude the reading of Torah, the Five Books of Moses, with V’zot HaBerachah, “and this is the blessing”. Moses praises Gd for His greatness, the twelve tribes of Israel for their obedience, and describes each tribe, asking Gd to bless the tribe.

On the first day of Sukkot we celebrate unity in diversity by waving the lulav – date palm frond, willow branches, myrtle branches and esrog – all bound together. Symbolically, it is Gd who expresses Himself as the diversity of creation within Himself, and Gd who binds together this diversity within Himself.

On the last day of Sukkot, Simchat Torah, we also celebrate unity in diversity as Moses asks Gd to bless each of the tribes – Gd is the unity that binds together all the diverse tribes of Israel, all different types of people, into unity, a community. The more we attune ourselves to Torah, to Gd, the deeper we experience this unity, the more we are able to “love Gd with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul” and able “to love our neighbor as our self,” our Self.

Moses passes away in perfect health, by the Kiss of Gd, and Joshua is filled with Gd’s Wisdom, passed to him through Moses.

The Five Books of Moses end and we have not yet entered the Promised Land, physically. But Gd’s Blessing is the Promised Land in its Deepest Reality. So as we end the Five Books and begin the cycle of reading again with Beresheit, Genesis, we are beginning with Gd’s Blessing deeper than we experienced it before, and with the Spirit of Wisdom, deeper than we experienced It before.

A very good practice of re-cycling!

These Five Books can be compared to the 5 elements of traditional cultures: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. The elements show a progression from concrete to abstract, more fine at each level. All the more concrete levels are contained within space and express it. So as we read through the Books we are increasingly integrating the concrete and the abstract, increasingly revealing the abstract as the stuff of which the concrete is made.

Although when we complete the reading of the Five Books of Moses, we have not yet entered the Promised Land, Torah continues with 19 more books, during which we do enter the Promised Land.

During the year, we also read the Haftarah for each section, a selection from the other 19 Books of Torah. Altogether there are 24 Books, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet plus the long and short vowels.

On the 6th day of Sukkot, the Haftarah is: Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16 on which Gd says, “And I will make known My Holy Name in the midst of my people Israel…” (translation from

There is a view that all of Torah is a single Name of Gd, and each letter and syllable corresponds to a detail of Creation and to a detail of our human physiology.

So throughout Sukkot we are ourselves and the Universe at every level: Torah enlivens us at many levels, not surprising since Torah is One with Gd.

On the seventh day of Sukkot, there is no Haftarah: Haftarah rests as Gd rests after the six days of Creation.

The six days of Sukkot and the Six Days of Creation correspond (among many correspondences) to the six layers of the cerebral cortex, the grey matter of our brain and the CEO of our brain. The seventh day corresponds to the white matter of our brain, long thought to be passive but now discovered to modulate and coordinate the different areas of the brain. Just so, on the Seventh Day of Creation in which Gd is said to Rest, we realize that Gd is always lively, always modulating and coordinating each detail of Gd and every appearance Gd has to we humans as we find our awareness increasingly restored to the level at which we experience our individualities as expressions, of Gd, within Gd,and quickly! Are restored to the awareness that Gd is all there is, functioning Fully through our open hearts, minds, souls.

A lovely experience to celebrate this Sukkot!

Baruch HaShem!

L’Shana Tovah U’Metukah.
Have a good year and a sweet one.