A Blessed Message
“And this is the blessing that Moshe, the man of G-d, bestowed upon the Children of Israel before his death” (Devarim 33:1)
The Ohr Hachaim asks why this parashah begins with the letter 'ו (הכרבה תאזו), since this letter indicates connection, and this parashah seems to be the beginning of a new topic.
We might answer according to the words of the Ramban (ibid.), who explains that the words “the man of G-d” indicate that Moshe’s blessing had significance. Since Moshe was a man of G-d, and beloved by Him, his prayers were desired and accepted on High. The letter 'ו connects this parashah with parashat Ha’azinu. Previously, the people were warned of the consequences of forsaking the Torah, and informed about the great blessing they would receive for going in its ways. This parashah continues along this line. As he was nearing his end, Moshe wished to part from Am Yisrael with the impression of berachah and all things good, in addition to the blessing of parashat Ha’azinu, and not, chalilah, the imprecations of the past. Not only did he bless them before his death, but he promised that all of the previous curses would be converted to blessing.
The words “And this is the blessing” allude to the pasuk (Devarim 4:44), “And this is the teaching that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel.” When Moshe blessed Bnei Yisrael, he mentioned all of the blessings inherent in the Torah, which elevates a person both spiritually and in the physical realm. He wished that this blessing, too, should influence them positively. Chazal teach (Berachot 18a), “Tzaddikim are considered alive even after death.” Moshe continues to live within his nation, blessing them with eternal blessing.
In parashat Va’etchanan (Devarim 4:25), we read, “When you beget children and grandchildren and will have been long in the Land.” Rashi says the word םתנשונו (and will have been long), numerically equivalent to 852, hints to the fact that Bnei Yisrael were slated to have been exiled after dwelling in their land for that amount of years. But Hashem did an act of kindness with them and exiled them after only 850 years. This was in order to avoid the fulfillment of the end of that prediction (ibid., 26), “You will surely perish quickly.” This is further referred to in the words of Daniel (9:14), “Hashem hastened the calamity and brought it upon us, for Hashem, our G-d, is just in all His deeds.” By bringing the exile two years early, Hashem spared Bnei Yisrael’s eternal annihilation. They will eventually merit complete redemption. The blessing, albeit in disguise, that Bnei Yisrael would be evicted from their Land two years early, was in the merit of the Torah, which Moshe evoked.
Parashat Ha’azinu is read during the Yamim Noraim. During these days, one is awakened to introspection. This parashah is capable of arousing one to repentance. Moshe Rabbeinu calls the heavens and earth to bear witness to the covenant which Moshe enacted between Hashem and His people. It contains the verse (Devarim 32:46) “He said to them: Apply your hearts to all the words that I testify against you today… to be careful to perform all the words of this Torah.” This is an injunction to open their eyes and their ears to words of Torah. This will prevent their going in the ways of wickedness and draw them to good.
At the end of parashat Ha’azinu, we read that Hashem told Moshe (Devarim 32:49), “Ascend to this mount of Avarim, Mount Nevo, which is in the land of Moav… and see the Land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel as an inheritance.” The name of the mountain, םירבע, alludes to Am Yisrael, the םירבעה (the Hebrews), as we are referred to in Shemot (5:3), “The G-d of the Hebrews happened upon us.” By Moshe ascending Mount Nevo in the land of Moav and gazing at Eretz Yisrael, he implanted a special power into the Hebrew nation to repel the forces of impurity on the one hand, while adhering to the morals of Torah on the other. In this manner, Hashem’s berachah, as expressed by Moshe, was doubled and tripled.
“And this is the blessing that Moshe, the man of G-d, bestowed upon the Children of Israel before his death” (Devarim 33:1) We don’t find that any other prophet blessed the nation before his demise. Even if there were those who left the nation with their good wishes, these words were not recorded for posterity, for they had no relevance for future generations. Why did the Torah see fit to record Moshe’s blessing prior to his death, and what is its underlying message for posterity?
We find that Moshe delineated a specific berachah for each shevet. Why wasn’t it enough to give the entire nation one general blessing, as we know that “all Yisrael are responsible for one another” (Shavuot 39a)?
Moshe understood that his status was due only to his people. Had he not been appointed by Hashem to redeem Bnei Yisrael from Egypt in order to grant them the Torah and lead them through the Wilderness, he would never have attained the lofty levels which he did (see Berachot 32a). Moshe, therefore, felt a tremendous sense of gratitude toward his nation. When he blessed them, he mentioned that they had preceded “We will hear” with “We will do.” At that moment, they were transformed to the level of angels. In the merit of this utterance, Moshe ascended to Heaven and mingled with the angels.
After the sin of the Golden Calf, Hashem told Moshe (Shemot 32:7), “Go, descend – for your people that you brought up from the land of Egypt has become corrupt.” Rashi expounds, “Go, descend from your elevated position.” All Moshe’s greatness and glory depended upon the spiritual state of the nation. After they sinned, they no longer deserved the Torah. Moshe, therefore, was worthy no longer of remaining on High and learning Torah from the mouth of Hashem.
Moshe was like a font overflowing with hakarat hatov toward Am Yisrael. He thus saw a need to bless them before his death, expressing his deep gratitude to them. Moshe did not make do with one single blessing for everyone, but took pains to bless each shevet individually, according to his status and needs. He felt thankfulness toward each and every tribe, for he had gained something unique from each one.
In order for each member of Bnei Yisrael to feel that Moshe was addressing him directly, Moshe exerted himself to bless them according to their tribes. The Torah recorded his blessing for posterity to transmit the message of the importance of hakarat hatov. This feeling of hakarat hatov is individual, each person exhibiting it according to his level. David Hamelech, too, exemplified this exalted middah. Thus, we find that he called Achitofel, “my Rebbi, my guide, my intimate” (see Sanhedrin 106b) because David learned something from him. Similarly, he instructed his son, Shlomo, to repay those who had done him a good turn by allowing them to eat at his table (see Melachim I, 2:7).
The Torah states (Devarim 4:44), “And this is the teaching.” From here we learn that Moshe wrote a separate Sefer Torah for each shevet. During his lifetime, the Sefer Torah had been in Shevet Levi’s possession. Just as a father writes a will so that his sons know clearly who inherits what, in order to prevent quarreling after his death, Moshe blessed the nation and bequeathed a Sefer Torah to each tribe. This would obviate any future fight over the inheritance of Torah after his death. Each shevet had a part in the Torah.
Whoever recognizes the benefits bestowed upon him by his friend will recognize the benefits which Hashem showers upon him. And whoever denies the goodness of his friend will eventually deny the good of Hashem (see Midrash Hagadol, Shemot 1:8). This is alluded to in the fact that after we finish reading the last parashah in the Torah, Vezot Haberachah, which teaches us the lesson of hakarat hatov, we immediately return to Chumash Bereishit, which describes Creation and is replete with emunah in Hashem. This faith is actualized by the demonstration of hakarat hatov to Hashem for His wonderful world. Through expressing gratitude for the wonders of Creation, and admitting that it lacks nothing, one reaches a level of perfect faith. In parashat Vezot Haberachah, Moshe displayed gratitude toward his nation. Its reading flows directly into the reading of parashat Bereishit, where the Creation is described, causing an outpouring of gratitude and praise to Hashem.
The last letter of the Torah is a 'ל, ending the word לארשי. And the first letter of תישארב is a 'ב. Together, they form the word בל (heart), which has the same gematria as the word דובכ (honor). Whoever opens his heart toward his fellow man, revealing genuine gratitude for the good he has done toward him, will eventually show honor toward Hashem, called the “King of Honor.”
In parashat Bereishit (chapter 3), the incident of Adam’s sinning by eating from the Tree of Knowledge is recorded. When Hashem turned to him in rebuke, Adam squarely placed the blame on Chava, his wife, who had seduced him to sin by eating of the forbidden fruit. The commentators (quoted by Rashi) state that Adam’s claim that his sin was caused by “the woman whom You gave to be with me” showed a lack of gratitude to Hashem. Instead of thanking Hashem for the wonderful gift of a wife, he blamed her for his sin.
As a result of this deficiency, Adam lost out. Hashem chased him out of Gan Eden, and he spiraled downward (see Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishit 28). Chazal state (Pesikta Rabbati, Parashah 14) that Adam descended due to his lack of hakarat hatov in not appreciating the wife Hashem had given him.
Parashat Bereishit continues with the account of Kayin and Hevel (chapter 4), who brought offerings to Hashem. Kayin had originated the idea of demonstrating gratitude toward Hashem in this manner. How, then, could he have fallen to the low level of killing his own brother in a fit of envy?
Kayin was the mastermind behind the concept of offering sacrifices to Hashem. But his sacrifice was not superior, for it was brought from flaxseed, which alludes to the halachic prohibition of kilayim (see Shelah Hakadosh, Ta’anit, Matot Masei 21). In offering such a korban, Kayin was pronouncing that although he admitted to a Creator, he wished to feel free to do as he saw fit. He felt no inclination to bow to the word of the Torah.
Hevel was not the initiator. He took his cue from Kayin. But he offered the choice sheep of his flock. When Kayin observed his brother outshining him in the middah of hakarat hatov, he was extremely jealous. Chazal relate (see Tanchuma 9) that at that moment, the world was divided. Cotton and wool belonged to Hevel, while wheat fell under Kayin’s domain. They shared their possessions with each other.
When Kayin eventually killed his brother, he demonstrated the opposite of hakarat hatov, murdering his brother after they had agreed to live and let live. He chose to ignore the kindness of his brother, who provided him with wheat – the staple food, and focused on his own envy, instead.
The trait of denying the good of others was ingrained in Kayin already when he offered the grains of flax, an allusion to hybridism. This offering hinted to a prohibition, and thus could hardly be called superior. Moreover, Chazal teach that he offered rotting fruits. This indicated a lack of hakarat hatov to Hashem and to the bounty of Creation with which he had been blessed. By mocking his brother’s graciousness in dividing the world between them, he eventually became deficient in hakarat hatov toward Hashem. But Kayin’s downward spiral did not end there. Even after Hashem allowed him to live by placing a sign on his forehead, the pasuk states (Bereishit 4:16), “Kayin left the presence of Hashem.” Rashi expounds, “Like one who steals the Supreme Knowledge,” leaving Gan Eden in a way that demonstrated his denial of Hashem’s omniscience. He did not acknowledge gratitude toward Hashem for renewing his life.
The Kabbalists relate (Tikkunei Zohar 112) that Moshe Rabbeinu’s neshamah had the same root as that of Hevel, who excelled in the trait of hakarat hatov. Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, contained a nitzotz of the neshamah of Kayin, who denied Hashem’s goodness. By Yitro’s exemplary acts, he rectified Kayin’s flaws. He did this by means of the offerings which he brought after converting (Shemot 18:12), thereby atoning for the faulty one which Kayin had brought.
All of Moshe’s movements were directed by hakarat hatov toward Hashem and Bnei Yisrael, and even toward inanimate objects. The first few plagues struck a chord of hakarat hatov in Moshe’s heart, as he refused to smite the Nile, for it had shielded him as a newborn (see Shemot Rabbah 9:10). The earth, too, had helped him by accepting the body of the Egyptian, whom Moshe had killed with the Heavenly Name. Therefore, Aharon was asked to strike the earth to bring on the plague of lice. Moshe exemplified the trait of hakarat hatov. He was most deserving of the honor of having the Torah called by his name, as Hashem said (Malachi 3:22), “Remember the Torah of Moshe, My servant.”