Our Parasha this Shabbat is entitled V’zot HaB’racha, meaning,“ and this is the blessing” and brings us to the end of Deuteronomy, completing the annual cycle of Torah readings.
V’zot Habracha is unique because it is never read on Shabbat. Instead, it is read on Simchat Torah because it is the last parasha (portion) in Deuteronomy and the last parasha in the Torah. It includes Moses’ final blessing to each of the Israelite tribes and the description of Moses’ death.
V’zot Habracha also is the most frequently read parasha. Historically, every eligible person is called up to bless the Torah (women are now included in many synagogues) and one blessing is even set aside for kol hanearim, all the children, as a group. Since it is short, the parasha is read over and over (and over again) to accommodate the community.
Moses pronounces a blessing over the tribes of Israel just before his death – a reiteration of the blessings Jacob had pronounced over his 12 sons five centuries earlier. The two blessings contain differences, and some of them are worth noting.
The most obvious distinction is that, whereas Jacob conferred judgement on some of his sons, there is only blessing here. Also, Simeon’s name does not appear at all in Moses’ blessing. This is because Simeon’s land inheritance was eventually subsumed in Judah. This is consistent with Shimon and Levi being told together by Jacob that they would be scattered throughout Israel.
In both blessings, Joseph is called “the one distinguished among his brothers.” Messiah’s human ancestry may have been traced through the line of Judah, but His character, namely His humility, His wisdom and His willingness to forgive His own brothers who disowned Him, earned Him the title Ben Yosef – the One who suffers, though innocent, and goes on to becomes the very Source of their salvation.
Something very interesting about Levi appears in chapter 33. In verse 9, Moses says of Levi “Who said of his father and his mother, ‘I did not consider them’; and he did not acknowledge his brothers, nor did he regard his own sons, for they observed Your word, and kept Your covenant.’ Should we interpret this literally? No! Moses wasn’t suggesting we dishonor our father or mother or that we abandon our children. Scripture does not contradict itself. Rather, it was a reminder that the Levites were the only ones who were loyal to God back at the time of the Golden Calf incident. They were so committed to the Covenant that they obeyed God’s command and put to death 3,000 of their fellow Israelis that day.
Interpreting the Scriptures without taking note of the context is a dangerous and destructive thing to do. But that’s exactly what anti-missionaries do when they criticize Yeshua for saying, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). They love to take that statement of context and argue that Yeshua is literally advocating we violate the fifth of the Ten Commandments. Yet if you were to show them Deut. 33:9 they would argue that Moses’ words were not to be taken literally. In other words, they use a double-standard; or, to put it in Torah-terms, unequal weights and measures – they are dishonest.
In chapter 34 God summons Moses to ascend Mt. Nebo. The Lord allows Moses to have a panoramic view of the entire Promised Land, reminding him that he won’t be going in. He is to die atop the mountain in Moab. I wonder if Moses told the people he wouldn’t be returning from Mt. Nebo. If so, can you imagine the sadness of such a send off? I find it fascinating that once again God and Moses are alone on a mountain at a pivotal time:
- God summoned Moses on a mountain to return to Egypt and deliver Israel.
- God summoned Moses on a mountain to receive the Torah and deliver it to Israel.
- God summoned Moses on a mountain to see the land of Israel and then die.
Moses died atop Mt. Nebo in the land of Moab. The Scriptures say that God buried him somewhere in that valley, but that no man knows his burial place. Was that the extent of his epitaph? Merely that he lived 120 years, and died while still strong and able to see and nobody knows where he was buried? Hardly, for we are reminded that God knew Moses face-to-face, and that the signs and wonders God sent him to perform were, as of the time of the completing of the Torah, unparalleled in Israel to that day.
In fact, the very last few verses of the entire Torah are set apart as a reminder that what had been promised in Deuteronomy 18 had not yet taken place.
Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face-to-face, for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform…
God had promised to one day raise up a singular, extraordinary prophet like Moses and that this One would speak the words of God; and it would be incumbent upon the people of Israel to give Him our unqualified obedience. And here we come to the end of the Torah itself, and we’re left still waiting for Him! In synagogues around the world this morning our people come to the end of this very same Torah, and are left waiting… waiting and wanting. Yeshua, Jesus of Nazareth, announced the wait was over when He declared, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote of Me”.
Deuteronomy 33 and 34 represent Moses’ swan song. It is the conclusion of his earthly life. But if you take his words seriously, and will believe on the Messiah – the One of whom he spoke, it will mark the beginning of your eternal life!