Vezot Haberacha is the final portion of the Torah. In it, Moses blesses each of the tribes, as is customary in the Bible for parents to bless their children before dying. When Moses is done, God instructs him to ascend the mountain where he will survey the land before being “gathered to his fathers”. Finally, the portion — and the Torah — ends with a reckoning of what it was that made Moses so unique.
It should be noted that this portion is not read on the Sabbath. Rather, it is read on the holiday of Simchat Torah, in which the Torah reading cycle is completed and restarted, amid much joyous celebration.
Blessings of Reuben, Levi, Judah, Benjamin and Joseph
Moses begins with a brief introduction describing the relationship between God and the Children of Israel before blessing each tribe individually. He begins with Reuben, blessing him with continuity. Judah he blesses with might and the ear of God. To Levi he offers praise for the tribe’s steadfast commitment to God, asking God to accept the offerings of their hands. He calls Benjamin God’s beloved, saying God will dwell among the tribe. To Joseph he offers prosperity, bounty and power, heaping blessings upon Ephraim and Manasseh.
The Israel Bible points out that Benjamin’s blessing, that God will dwell among the tribe, is a reference to the Temple, which stood in Benjamin’s territory. One reason suggested to explain why Benjamin merited to host the Temple, and thereby God Himself, is that he was the only one of Jacob’s twelve sons to have been born in Israel.
Points to Ponder
The tribes are not being blessed in birth order (of their progenitors) or in order of encampment. What do you think might be the significance of the order in which Moses chooses to bless them?
Blessings of Zebulun, Issachar, Gad, Dan, Naftali and Asher
Next, Moses blesses Zebulun and Issachar together, the former in their travels and the latter in their tents. He praises Gad for ‘executing God’s righteousness’, recognizing God for enlarging the tribe. He compares Dan to a leaping lion. He offers Naftali prosperity on the sea and in the south. He blesses Asher with oil and valuable metals.
After turning to each of the tribes individually, Moses offers his final words to the nation as a whole. Praising God, he notes that the Israelites should rejoice in being His chosen people, and appreciate that they have God to fight for them.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think Simeon is excluded from the tribal blessings?
The Death of Moses
Moses ascends Mount Nebo, and God shows him all the land which the Children of Israel are set to inherit. Then Moses dies, and is buried in an unknown location in the land of Moab.
The mourning period for Moses lasts 30 days in the plains of Moab. Joshua, on whom Moses rested his hands to pass on authority, takes over the leadership, and is imbued with a spirit of wisdom.
The Torah concludes by describing the greatness of Moses. At the time of his death, at 120 years old, his strength had not waned, nor had his eyesight. Unique among prophets, only Moses merited to speak with God face to face, and he was chosen to perform God’s miracles and wonders in Egypt.
The Israel Bible points out how important the Land of Israel was to Moses. Although throughout his life he preoccupied himself with all the nation’s various needs, before his death, he was interested in one thing alone: seeing the Land of Israel, which he would never enter himself.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think Moses’s burial place is unknown?