Famous Last Words: V’Zote Ha’Bracha 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: It’s often interesting to read the last words of famous historical figures. Here are a few:

  • Benjamin Franklin: “A dying man can do nothing easy.”
  • Marie Antoinette: “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur.”
  • Raphael: “Happy.”
  • Steve Jobs: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

Some famous last words are insightful, while others are more mundane. As we are reading the Torah’s final words during Simhat Torah on Tuesday, it is intriguing to hear how the last Torah portion, V’Zote Ha’Bracha, concludes, so soon after the account of Moses’ death:

The Pitch: “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses – whom Adonai singled out, face to face, for the various signs and portents that Adonai sent him to display in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and his whole country, and for all the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel.” (Deuteronomy 34:10-12)

Swing #1: “[Moses] had an informal relationship with [God], and would speak with God at any time he wished.” – Rashi

Swing #2: In Israel none arose like Moses – touched by God – whose visions probed the limits of humanity.” – From “Yigdal”, Siddur Sim Shalom translation

Swing #3: “Rabbi Hayim Vital once dreamed … The day of [Simhat Torah] had arrived, and they brought the body of Moses to the synagogue in Safed. It took many men to carry the body inside the synagogue, for it was at least 10 cubits long. Then the body, wrapped in a white robe, was placed on a very long table that had been placed in advance. But as soon as the body of Moses was stretched out on the long table, it became transformed into a scroll of the Torah that was opened to its full length, like a long letter, from the first words of Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy.” – Shivhei Rabbi Hayim Vital

Late-Inning Questions: Do you think the final words of the Torah provide a fitting conclusion to our most sacred book? Do they sum up Moses’ life in an appropriate way? What do they say about the meaning of the Torah as a whole? Are our commentators’ explanations in keeping with the meaning of these final verses, or are they mere flights of fancy? If you were charged to write the Torah’s final sentence, what would you write?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Speaking of Simhat Torah, please join us! On Monday, October 24th, our Happy Hour starts at 6:00PM, with services and Olympic-themed dancing with the Torah (complete with medal ceremonies!) starting at 6:45PM. The next morning, the fun continues at services beginning at 9:30AM.

The Big Inning at the End: One win away from the pennant. Pray with me.

Shabbat Shalom! And, soon, Chag Sameach!