Rosh Hodesh Tishrei Torah Essay
On Simchat Torah we celebrate the completion of the yearly cycle of reading the Torah. The significance of the transition from the end of Sefer Devarim where Bnei Yisrael as a nation bids farewell to their leader Moshe Rabbeinu to the start of Sefer Bereishit and the creation of the world, however, can sometimes be lost in the shuffle of the holiday. The powerful nature of the end of Sefer Devarim as it stands juxtaposed with the beginning of Sefer Bereishit can be understood through delving into Moshe Rabbeinu’s final words to the Jewish people.
In Devarim 31, Moshe finishes his speech to Bnei Yisrael, confirms Yehoshua as the new leader and writes down the Torah and passes it on to the Kohanim with a charge to teach the nation. Moshe’s hope is that his time spent leading and teaching the nation will ensure that they continue to follow in the ways of Hashem even after his death. However, immediately following the end of Moshe’s sermon, Hashem tells Moshe that following Moshe’s death Bnei Yisrael are going to worship avodah zarah and they will be punished. Hashem then charges Moshe with the task of writing Shirat HaAzinu as a testimony against the nation. As a leader, the news Moshe received from Hashem must have been devastating! It is on the basis of this knowledge, the knowledge that the people will stray, that Moshe approaches Bnei Yisrael in V’Zot HaBracha with his final words.
Rabbi Chanoch Waxman suggests that V’Zot HaBracha is Moshe’s response to Hashem’s dire predictions. Moshe refuses to accept what he is told and instead uses his final words to remind the nation that they are in control of their actions. He tells them that even if fate dictates one outcome, they have the power to change their destiny and follow in the ways of God. The question becomes, however, did Moshe succeed in imparting this message to Bnei Yisrael?
An answer can be found through a beautiful understanding of the opening pesukim of V’Zot HaBracha in HaKtav V’HaKaballah. Moshe begins his bracha to the nation by saying that Bnei Yisrael followed Hashem and His commandments. Rav Mecklenburg notes that the two pesukim following Moshe’s opening words, however, are extremely strange.
(ד) תּוֹרָה צִוָּה לָנוּ מֹשֶׁה מוֹרָשָׁה קְהִלַּת יַעֲקֹב:
(ה) וַיְהִי בִישֻׁרוּן מֶלֶךְ בְּהִתְאַסֵּף רָאשֵׁי עָם יַחַד שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: (Devarim 33:4-5)
Why would Moshe make a statement of “Moshe commanded us the Torah” or “and then he became a king in Jesherun” referring to himself? It makes no sense! Rav Mecklenburg answers by saying that these two pesukim were not said by Moshe but rather by the entire nation. This simple answer radically affects our understanding of the beginning of Parshat V’Zot HaBracha.
Picture the scene: Moshe receives news that Bnei Yisrael are going to stray from the ways of God. He decides to impress upon the nation that they can and should continue in Hashem’s way but does not know if his messages will fall on deaf ears. What happens? Bnei Yisrael interrupt with a proclamation: Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe! Moshe commanded us the Torah and it is our morasha! The Maharam explains that the word morasha indicates something that is inherited through hard work. Bnei Yisrael recognize that they will have to put in an effort in order to keep the Torah and yet they proudly proclaim that they are willing to put in the work. They hear Moshe’s concerns and stop him from continuing before reassuring him that they are willing to fight for their destiny. The final parsha in the Torah isn’t just Moshe’s refusing to accept Hashem’s predictions as Rabbi Waxman explained, it is the entire nation bolstering Moshe and proclaiming that he succeeded as their leader.
When we celebrate the completion of the Torah by beginning it anew, we too are proclaiming that the Torah is our morasha. We do not see the act of finishing as a reason to close the book but instead we delve into the messages of the Torah from the beginning and work towards internalizing the lessons learned. This Simchat Torah as we complete Sefer Devarim pay attention to the point of transition. Declare Chazak, Chazak V’Nitchazek with the same fervor as a nation of millions who told their leader that they have faith in their ability to never waiver in their upholding of the Torah. Then begin Sefer Bereishit and put our declaration into action by working to make the Torah our morasha.