This week, we read from the very end of the book of Deuteronomy, the potion called Zot HaBrachah – this is the blessing. This portion often gets short shrift as it is read during our Simchat Torah celebration along with the first lines of the book of Genesis; as we both end and begin the Torah Cycle reading once again.
It is an interesting portion in itself: Moses’ last words to the people before his death. Our reading begins: This is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, bade the Israelites farewell before he died. (Deut. 33:1) Moses knows the end is near; and it seems that he wants to make an impression on those who have come to hear his message. The midrash imagines him saying,
[I know I will die soon…but] Wait until I bless Israel. All my life, they have had no pleasant experiences with me, for I constantly rebuked them and admonished them not to fear God and fulfill the commandments. I do not wish to leave this world before I have blessed them. (Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzburg, Vol. III, p. 452)
Moses doesn’t want the people to remember him only as the unbending disciplinarian upholding correct behavior and thought. He wants to be remembered as kind, compassionate, understanding and capable of delivering words of blessing. However, as much as he wants to speak words of blessing, soon after he begins to speak, the focus of the text shifts to a third person narrative and we are left wondering who exactly is speaking. The text says: When Moses charged us with the Teaching as the heritage of the congregation of Jacob. (Deut. 33:4). The commentators wonder who ‘us’ is…..the men? The women? All of the people of Israel? Only those present? All who are yet to come?
Ramban, a 13th century Spanish commentator draws our attention to the second half of the verse noting that it says the congregation of Jacob, instead of the House of Jacob. The reason? Many will join Jacob in the generations to come. Each will receive his spiritual heritage as they become a part of the people of Israel. The community will be richer because of its diversity. So too with us. Just like the biblical community, ours is one made up of some born into Judaism, some who have chosen Judaism, and some who are exploring where they fit. Thus, these words are meant for everyone; we are all a part of the ‘congregation of Jacob.’ The words of blessing are for us all.