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.”


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