When the Levi Breaks: V’Zote Ha’Bracha 2022

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

(Note: The Torah reading for this Saturday is specific to the holiday of Sukkot, but V’Zote Ha’Bracha, the final Torah portion, is read on Simhat Torah morning, on Tuesday.)

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever had to justify the conduct of those in your family? Did you struggle to do so? Or was it easy to defend them?

Apparent in some of Moses’s final words is a complimentary but somewhat distant reflection on his fellow tribesmen:

The Pitch: “Who said of his father and mother, ‘I consider them not.’ His brothers he disregarded, ignored his own children. Your precepts alone they observed, and kept your covenant.” – Deuteronomy 33:9

Swing #1: “This statement is intended to emphasize the extreme zeal of the Levites … It would seem that according to a few sources, familial ties might be subject to termination under circumstances, in contrast to many other texts, which do not suggest this possibility.” – Saul M. Olyan, Friendship in the Hebrew Bible

Swing #2: “[This verse] alludes to a divine covenant between God and the Levites … here, however, the plural verb leaves room for the notion that this covenant is in fact with the Levites as a tribe rather than with the individual named Levi.” – James L. Kugel, The Ladder of Jacob: Ancient Interpretations of the Biblical Story of Jacob and his Children

Swing #3: “When he blesses his own tribe of Levi … [Moses] speaks of their righteousness at the instance of the golden calf and at the waters of Meribah. But he does not even mention his own brother, Aaron, whose actions were crucial in these trials. Moses makes no reference to his nephews, who will serve as high priests in the Promised Land, nor to his sons, also Levites, who will not. The blessing is generic, for the whole and not the part. It is as though Moses had no personal relationships with or no blessing for those closest to his heart.” – Rabbi Sandra J. Cohen in The Women’s Torah Commentary: New Insights From Women Rabbis on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions

Late-Inning Questions: To what extent does Moses seem proud of his fellow Levites? To what extent is he embarrassed? Does Moses necessarily need to stand up for them? Should a leader stand up for everyone s/he leads, without exception?

On-Deck at TBT: We can certainly all stand up to applaud Cantor Mark Spindler and Rusty Zackheim, this year’s Simhat Torah honorees. Join us for their special aliyot at services beginning at 9:30am this coming Tuesday.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of standing up for others, as we edge further into the baseball playoffs, more and more teams are eliminated, testing the resolve of their fans. Is there ever a circumstance in which a lifelong fan can abandon his/her team? If so, what might that be?

Shabbat Shalom!