The Value of Life: V’Zote HaBracha 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: With Sukkot on the way, the next weekly Torah portion we’ll read (on Simhat Torah morning) is the final one, which describes Moses’ death. The Torah text indicates that Moses, despite being 120 years old, dies even though he could have lived much longer. Given the recent massacre in Las Vegas, what priority must society place on ensuring that other people don’t die “before their time”?
The Pitch: “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there, in the land of Moab, at the command of the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 34:5

Swing #1: “If a teacher studies the Law with disciples and leads many to righteousness, the study and the worship conducted by the disciples are credited to the teacher as if he had performed these acts himself, even after he himself has died. The Mishna says of Moses that he ‘was righteous and led the people to righteousness; hence the merit of the people is attributed to him’ (Ethics of the Fathers 5:21). Therefore whatever study and worship the Jewish people will perform until the end of time will be credited to Moses. Thus Moses will remain ‘the servant of the Lord’ even after he ‘died there’.” – Mevasser Tzedek

Swing #2: “Moses had to die because he had slain the Egyptian taskmaster. God: ‘Did I tell you to slay the Egyptian?’ Moses: ‘But you killed all the first-born in Egypt!’ God: ‘Do you resemble Me? I cause people to die and I also revive them.’” – Bet HaMidrash

Swing #3: “Rabbi Eleazar also said that Miriam also died by the Divine kiss [like Moses]: We interpret the expression ‘there’ [used at Miriam’s death] in the same sense as that of the expression ‘there’ used of Moses. Why then is it not said about her [that she died] by the mouth of the Lord? Because it would be unbecoming to say so.” – BT Moed Katan 28a

Late-Inning Questions: What do our commentaries reveal about God’s personality? How does God balance treating living creatures with mercy and with justice? As we ponder how to make our society safer today, how do we balance a desire to treat others with mercy and justice?

Sukkot is known as “the time of our joy”, and it arrives each year whether we’re ready to be joyous or not. Our challenge is to find moments of joy even as our hearts continue to go out to victims in Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Texas, to name only a few places. It is worthwhile to celebrate moments of joy even when we are simultaneously reaching out to others in pain. May Sukkot enable us to appreciate the good fortune in our lives, so that we may better serve those who hurt.

Speaking of good fortune …

The Big Inning at the End: GO CUBS! SWAT AWAY THOSE NATS!

Hag Sameach, and soon, Shabbat Shalom!