Exclusion for the Sake of Inclusion
“And this is the blessing that Moshe, the man of G-d, bestowed upon the Children of Israel before his death” (Devarim 33:1)
All the tribes merited receiving Moshe’s blessing before his death, except for Shevet Shimon. Rashi states that Shimon’s blessing was included in Yehudah’s, in the words (ibid., vs. 7), “Hearken, O Hashem, to Yehudah’s voice.”
Why wasn’t Shevet Shimon found worthy of receiving his own blessing from Moshe? And why was his blessing included in that of Shevet Yehudah as opposed to any other shevet? Rashi elucidates. Moshe had misgivings about blessing Shevet Shimon, due to the incident in Shittim with Zimri, their Nasi. Why should the entire tribe be punished for the sin of an individual? The fact that the rest of the tribe remained alive proved that they themselves had not sinned. Why, then, were they deprived of Moshe’s direct blessing? Why did Moshe show them disfavor before his death, by reducing their honor in this way? Wasn’t he worried that Shevet Shimon would eventually turn their backs to the Torah, called by his name? For they might view his lack of blessing as though he were writing them off from Hashem’s Torah.
Moshe wrote Sifrei Torah for each shevet. Shevet Shimon, too, received a Torah Scroll written in Moshe’s hand. Originally, Moshe had written only one Sefer Torah, which was presented to Shevet Levi. But the other tribes came to him with grievances. They, too, wished to have a part in Hashem’s Torah. He mollified them by writing a separate Sefer Torah for each tribe. This would help them feel a bond with the holy words of the Torah. Moshe bequeathed the message to all of Bnei Yisrael that the Torah does not belong exclusively to Shevet Levi, but to the entire nation. The Torah is accessible to all who wish to partake of it.
Although Moshe did not bless Shevet Shimon directly, the Sefer Torah he presented to them was in lieu of a blessing. He could not bring himself to openly bless them, as the memory of Shittim was still fresh in his mind. Twenty-four thousand fellow Jews had fallen in the plague, attributed to Shevet Shimon. A hairsbreadth separated them from total annihilation. Pinchas stood up and saved the day by avenging Hashem’s honor, in an act of zeal and self-sacrifice.
In an indirect way, Shevet Shimon was responsible for Moshe’s death at this time. Hashem ordered Moshe to avenge the Midianite nation, and afterward, he would meet his death. As long as Moshe delayed fighting the Midianites, who had incited Bnei Yisrael to sin with immorality and the idolatry of Ba’al Peor, he would remain alive (see Yalkut Shimoni, Bamidbar 785). Moshe had no choice but to fight the Midianites, who had caused the death of thousands of his nation. Bnei Yisrael did not want Moshe to go to war, knowing that he was sealing his fate. But Moshe did not take personal interests into consideration. His only concern was the honor of Hashem. By fighting the Midianites, he avenged Hashem’s honor, as well as that of Bnei Yisrael.
Moshe’s neshamah was intertwined with that of Bnei Yisrael (see Mechilta, Yitro 1). Certainly a disaster of such proportion, with so many dying in a plague caused great pain to Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe was afraid to mention Shevet Shimon by name, for fear of arousing Heavenly prosecution against them. Moshe merely put on a show of anger in order to appease the Middat Hadin and keep it at bay. But in his heart, Moshe had no grievances toward Shevet Shimon whatsoever. Moshe’s withholding blessing from them did not come from a place of resentment. On the contrary, it was out of love toward them and a desire to protect them from the Middat Hadin.
With the words “Hearken, O Hashem, to Yehudah’s voice,” our Sages comment that Moshe blessed Shevet Shimon with the following: Their prayers should always be accepted in Heaven, and the Middat Hadin should not take vengeance upon them for nearly causing Am Yisrael destruction. Moshe continued (Devarim 33:7), “And return him to his people.” Shevet Shimon should be considered one of the shevatim of Hashem.
Moshe opened his blessing to Klal Yisrael with the words (ibid., vs. 5) “He became King over Yeshurun when the heads of the nation gathered.” Shevet Yehudah represents kingship, broadly encompassing Shevet Shimon. Part of Yehudah’s mission was to protect Shevet Shimon from the wrath of the other tribes, preventing them from taking revenge for their fallen brothers.
Shevet Shimon felt Moshe’s love toward them, which only made them feel closer to him. Proof of this is that when Moshe passed away, the entire nation mourned him, including Shevet Shimon.
Of course, the Torah never ends (see Bereishit Rabbah 10:1). As soon as we complete parashat Vezot Haberachah, finishing the reading of the entire Torah, we begin the cycle anew. What is the connection between Moshe Rabbeinu’s death, in Vezot Haberachah, and the creation of mankind, in Bereishit?
The death of tzaddikim provides atonement and prevents the destruction of the world, when the Middat Hadin demands justice (see Moed Katan 28a). The death of tzaddikim allows the world a rebirth, as indicated in the Creation of Bereishit. Homiletically, the Ba’al Haturim states that the last letters of the phrase בראשית ברא אלוקים spell the word אמת. In the merit of the atonement brought by the death of the righteous, who were involved in the Torah of truth, the world is renewed and is considered recreated.
It is the atonement afforded by the death of the tzaddikim which spares the world from returning to its former state of nothingness, shrouded completely in darkness. The tzaddikim, who are replete with Torah knowledge, are capable of igniting a spark in the darkness which envelops the world with their passing. Thus, the world is recreated. In parashat Bereishit, we read (1:2), “The Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters.” This Divine Presence is the holy neshamah of the righteous, which spent its years in this world surfing the sea of the Torah. As we know, water is an allusion to Torah (Bava Kama 17a), as the Navi states (Yeshayahu 55:1), “Ho, everyone who is thirsty, go to the water.” This water protects the world from calamity and catastrophe, protecting its inhabitants from the strict hand of justice.
Before even the Creation of the world, Hashem contemplated a Jewish nation (Bereishit Rabbah 1:4). He always envisioned a people comprised of twelve tribes, the שבטי י'ה. In their merit, the world, also created with the Name,י'ה, would endure. The Arizal (Sha’ar Hakavanot, Drush Aleinu L’shabe’ach 1) tells us that there are twelve gates in Heaven, corresponding to the Twelve Tribes. The connection between parshiyot Vezot Haberachah and Bereishit is very clear. The creation and survival of the world, is in the merit of the Twelve Tribes, who correspond to the twelve gateways of prayer in Heaven.
When Moshe assembled the nation in order to bless them, Shevet Shimon stood there together with Shevet Yehudah, who protected them from the Middat Hadin, which stood against them for their dastardly deed with the daughters of Moav. Although Shevet Shimon was not mentioned separately, Moshe made it a point to bless them, just like the rest of the tribes. The world rests on the shoulders of all twelve tribes. Yeshayahu Hanavi proclaims (26:4), “ה' צור עולמים – For in G-d, Hashem, is the strength of the worlds.” The world is sustained in the merit of the Twelve Tribes, the שבטי י'ה. By blessing all of them equally, Moshe was indicating that his death was not due solely to the sin of Shevet Shimon. Rather, it was atonement for the entire nation. The last word in the Torah is ישראל and the first word is בראשית. The initials of these two words spell י"ב, the Twelve Tribes upon which the world stands.
The initials of the words וזאת הברכה, though, is numerically equivalent to eleven. This seems to denote the exclusion of Shevet Shimon from the calculation of the Twelve Tribes. Moshe, who wrote the Torah by the word of Hashem, decided to omit Shimon’s name from the recording of the berachot, in order not to arouse the Middat Hadin, as mentioned above. In order to convey the message that he was not angry with them, though, he hinted to their inclusion in the Twelve Tribes in the initials of the last and first words of the Torah. Moshe blessed all of the Shevatim equally, for they uphold the entire world.