Bookmark and Share
Join Our Email List
Email:
For Email Newsletters you can trust

Rabbi Arthur Segal’s love of people, humanity, and Judaism has him sharing with others “The Wisdom of the Ages” that has been passed on to him. His writings for modern Jews offer Spiritual, Ethical, and eco-Judaic lessons in plain English and with relevance to contemporary lifestyles. He is the author of countless articles, editorials, letters, and blog posts, and he has recently published two books:

The Handbook to Jewish Spiritual Renewal: A Path of Transformation for the Modern Jew

and

A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud

You can learn more about these books at:

www.JewishSpiritualRenewal.org
ALL ENTRIES ARE (C) AND PUBLISHED BY RABBI ARTHUR SEGAL JEWISH SPIRITUAL RENEWAL, INC, AND NOT BY ANY INDIVIDUAL EMPLOYEE OF SAID CORPORATION. THIS APPLIES TO 3 OTHER BLOGS (CHUMASH, ECO, SPIRITUALITY) AND WEB SITES PUBLISHED BY SAID CORPORATION.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Vezot Ha'berachah: RABBI ARTHUR SEGAL: ECO-JUDAISM : MOSES' DEATH ON MT NEBO

Vezot Ha'berachah: RABBI ARTHUR SEGAL: ECO-JUDAISM : MOSES' DEATH ON MT NEBO

Parasha Vezot Ha'berachah: Deuteronomy 33:01-34:12

RABBI DR ARTHUR SEGAL www.JewishSpiritualRenewal.com/books www.FaceBook.com/Arthur.L.Segal www.FaceBook.com/RabbiArthurSegalJewishSpiritualRenewal www.RabbiArthurSegal.blogspot.com
Jewish Spiritual Renewal
Jewish Renewal
Jewish Spirituality
Hilton Head Island, SC; Bluffton, SC; Savannah, GA
 

"Death Don't Have No Mercy In This Land"

This is the last portion of the Chumash. Moses blesses each of the tribes of Israel individually. But did Moses bless all twelve? When he is through with his farewell blessings, Moses ascends Mount Nebo, sees the land of Israel from the mountaintop and dies. Who buries Moses? If the entire Torah was traditionally believed to have been given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, did he write the last verses describing his death as well? Upon Moses' death, Joshua takes over the reigns of leadership. To learn more, we invite you to read more.

Like Jacob centuries before him, Moses blesses each of the twelve tribes. Like Jacob, Moses' words are both blessings and prophecies. The Hebrew word v'zot (and this) is how Moses begins his blessings. This is the same phrase that Jacob uses to end his blessings (Gen. 49:28). The Midrash says that this is to show continuity of the people from their earliest times as individual sons of Jacob to the time soon to come, when they will enter the Promised Land and become a nation after wandering in the desert for 40 years. Moses used this same phrase when he began his summation of the Torah in Deuteronomy 4:44. Ramban (Nachmonides of thirteenth-century Spain) says that this symbolizes that it was the ethics of Torah that carried Israel through its past journeys, and Torah ethics will continue to carry Israel through its future trials.

This portion is read on Simchat Torah. As already mentioned, it is the last of the Chumash. As soon as we finish it, we immediately cycle back to the beginning; Genesis, the first book of the Torah. This symbolizes that our people can never consider the ethics taught in the Torah to be completed. Our study, as well as our living ethically, continues year in and year out.

This Shabbat's Haftarah, taken from the first chapter of the book of Joshua, is the book of the Holy Scriptures that follows Deuteronomy. In this Haftarah, Joshua solidifies his leadership and the Jews pledge loyalty to him by saying, "all that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go." This is reminiscent of the words said by the Israelites in the desert to Moses: "We will do and we will listen." While the ethics of the Torah are unchanging in a circular pattern, Jewish history and our adaptation to the times must be linear.

Moses is called "a man of God" (Deut. 33:01). His last act on earth, knowing that he would die, was to bless his people. Rabbi Yaakov David says that homiletically, Moses is asking the leaders of the tribes to not only be strong and wise, but to be honest and kind as well. Moses calls the Torah a heritage (Deut. 33:04). It is to be transmitted from generation to generation. It is not an inheritance. One can do what one wishes to do with an inheritance. A heritage is something valuable and special that is handed down to succeeding generations. The rabbis in Talmud Tractate Pesachim 49B take the Hebrew word for heritage, change one consonant and one vowel, and read the new word as "married." Israel and the Torah are married.

The Twelve Tribes are blessed by Moses. Ephriam and Menassah are combined as Joseph, who was their father but did not have his own tribe. Simeon is left out. Ibn Ezra, of the 12th-century, says that this is because Jacob has castigated Simeon in Genesis 49:05, and because the sinners in the orgy at Baal Peor were Simeonites (Num. 25:03). Ramban disagrees. He says that the Twelve Tribes are always listed as twelve. Usually Levi is deleted, as this tribe is landless. But Moses wished to bless Levi, as their task of transmitting Torah values was extremely important. He therefore had to omit a tribe and chose Simeon. He omitted Simeon, as their population was small. According to the critical theory of Biblical authorship, Simeon was incorporated into a part of Judah as early as in Joshua's time (Josh. 19:02). By the time of Deuteronomy's writing after the return from the exile in Babylon, this tribe was all but forgotten.

Zebulun and Issachar are mentioned together. Zebulun engaged in successful maritime commerce and supported Issachar, who devoted time to study and teaching Torah (I Chron. 12:32). Rashi says that this symbiotic relationship is codified by halakah (Jewish law). A rich man, with no time for study, can pay someone to study and they both will get credit for fulfilling the commandment to study Torah. In spiritual Jewish philosophy, this goes against the spirit of studying Torah to make us better people. We study Torah ethics and do good deeds because it the correct way to be, and not to garner God's favor.

In Deuteronomy 34:05, Moses dies. There are eight more verses of the Chumash. The rabbis debate who wrote these. In Talmud Bavli Tractate Bava Batra 15B there are two opinions: Joshua wrote these eight lines, or God dictated these words to Moses, who wrote them with tears from his eyes, rather than with ink. The Vilna Gaon, of 18th-century Lithuania, says both rabbis of the Talmud are correct. Moses got the entire Torah from God. The part that had to do with his death came as one long stream of letters. He says that the Hebrew word "dimah" can mean either "tear" or "mixed-up." The Gaon says Moses wrote the letters, but Joshua made them into intelligible words. I must inject a personal note here. Whenever I read about Moses dying, I get tears in my eyes. While alive, Moses is called a man of God. When he dies, he is called a servant of God (eved Adonai; Deut. 34:05). In death, he is completely in Heaven's realm. As a living being, he is a man, able to make choices and able to make errors.

We are told that Moses dies "by the mouth of God" (Deut.34:05). Rashi says that this means Moses dies by a divine kiss. The rabbis of the Talmud discuss all the various ways one can die. They decide that this is the best of all the ways to die. While the text says that God buried Moses, some rabbis argue that Moses buried himself. Another tradition says that Moses' grave was ready for him since the evening of sixth day of the creation at precisely twilight of the first Shabbat (Pirkei Avot 5:06). Talmud Bavli Tractate Sotah 13A says that the verse, "and no one knows his burial place to this day," means that Moses himself did not know where it was. No one is to know where it is even now, so as not to make it into a shrine.

The rabbis discuss another interesting point. Verse 34:08 says, "the children of Israel bewailed" Moses' death. They juxtapose this with how the Torah says Aaron was mourned. Numbers 20:29 says Aaron was mourned "by the entire house of Israel." The rabbis say that Moses was mourned by men to whom he taught the law. The sages say that all the men, women, and children mourned for Aaron because he taught them love, kindness and how to pursue peace. Aaron was known to go throughout the camp transforming friends and families who had disagreements into having loving and amicable relationships with each other again.

In Tractate Sotah 14a, Rabbi Simlai notes that the Torah ends with an act of kindness (chesed); God burying Moses. The Torah also begins with an act of chesed in Genesis 3:21 when God clothed Adam and Eve. The Talmud records that chesed is the founding principle of the Jewish people and of what we call ethical monotheism. Abraham's mission was preaching chesed toward one another.

The Talmud teaches that chesed is associated with spiritual perfection and is the most important aspect of the Torah. "Chesed is the unifying factor of creation," says rabbi Pinchas Winston. If one masters the trait of kindness, one masters the traits for building relationships. Abraham and his original religious philosophy believe that the world was created for chesed and for loving, kind relationships with each other. King David reiterated this idea in Psalm 89:03: "A world of chesed You created."

Imitating God is a higher spiritual experience than doing rituals or even talking to God, as we learned when we read about Abraham stopping his conversation with God to care for three strangers. When one makes chesed a high priority in life, one is doing one's best to resemble God. God says in Genesis 1:03, "Let there be light (or)." Abraham is called a light in the Midrash. The Midrash also says, "when Moses was born he filled the house with light." We know that God calls light good. We know of Abraham's many acts of kindness, but what was Moses' major act of kindness? Moses, the Midrash says, did a "chesed shel emet" (true kindness).

While the Jews were busy collecting gold from the Egyptians just prior to the Exodus, Moses found Jacob's coffin, which was buried in the Nile River, and brought it to the surface. He carried it with him for forty years and instructed Joshua to bury Jacob in Shechem.

Why is this called an act of true kindness? The sages say it is an act that can never be repaid. Because of this one act, the Midrash says, Moses merited burial by God Himself. It was not due to the teaching of the 613 commandments. It was not due to bringing Israel out of slavery and through the desert safely to the banks of the Promised Land. It was not due to being shomar Shabbat (strictly observant of Shabbat), or following exacting rituals of the dietary laws. Moses is called a man of God, a servant of God, and is buried by God because he did an act of true, unrepayable chesed.

I close this last D'var of the Chumash with a quote about Moses by Elie Wiesel: "His passion for social justice, his struggle for national liberation, his triumphs and disappointments, his poetic inspiration, his gifts as a strategist and an organizational genius, his complex relationship with God and His people, his requirements and promises, his condemnations and blessings, his bursts of anger, his silences, his efforts to reconcile the law with compassion, authority with integrity - no individual, ever, anywhere, accomplished so much for so many people in so many different domains. His influence is boundless. It reverberates beyond time."

RABBI DR ARTHUR SEGAL www.JewishSpiritualRenewal.com/books www.FaceBook.com/Arthur.L.Segal www.FaceBook.com/RabbiArthurSegalJewishSpiritualRenewal www.RabbiArthurSegal.blogspot.com
Jewish Spiritual Renewal
Jewish Renewal
Jewish Spirituality
Hilton Head Island, SC; Bluffton, SC; Savannah, GA
If visiting SC's Low Country, contact us for a Shabbat meal, in our home by the sea, our beth yam.
Maker of Shalom (Oseh Shalom) help make us deserving of Shalom beyond all human comprehension
 
RABBI DR ARTHUR SEGAL www.JewishSpiritualRenewal.com/books www.FaceBook.com/Arthur.L.Segal www.FaceBook.com/RabbiArthurSegalJewishSpiritualRenewal www.RabbiArthurSegal.blogspot.com
Jewish Spiritual Renewal
Jewish Renewal
Jewish Spirituality
Hilton Head Island, SC; Bluffton, SC; Savannah, GA